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Clinical Aromatherapy Essential Oils in Healthcare by Jane Buckle (z-lib.org)

Essential Oils in Healthcare
Third Edition
Jane Buckle, PhD, RN
London, UK
3251 Riverport Lane
St. Louis, MO 63043
ISBN: 978-0-7020-5440-2
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This book is for those who want to push
the boundaries of clinical aromatherapy within healthcare.
Here is the evidence. Now, it’s over to you.
romatherapy is possibly the simplest of all complementary therapies to integrate because when we inhale air, we inhale aroma, although we are usually
unaware of it. However, aromatherapy is rarely presented in a cogent, scientific
way; as a result, it has been difficult for physicians, nurses, and others in healthcare
to take the field seriously or to understand how we could integrate it into our practice. Here is a book written by a PhD nurse with considerable research training and
experience, who writes about aromatherapy in a way that we can identify.
As a small boy growing up in Turkey, I had my own special paradise—my grandfather’s walled garden—where I became aware of the power of the senses; in particular, how the fragrance of plants made me feel good. Now, as a cardiovascular surgeon,
I work on repairing the heart. I know the heart is perceived by many to be more than
a pump, the epicenter of emotion, and I continue to be aware of how important our
senses are to our well-being and how feeling good can help recovery. The very smell of
many hospitals is unpleasant, alien, or distressing to our patients. Patients feel at their
most vulnerable in a hospital’s high-tech surroundings, so a familiar and comforting
smell can do much to put them at their ease. In common with several forward-thinking hospitals in the United States, we now use aromatherapy at Columbia Presbyterian and we have worked with Jane Buckle on research since 1995.
Our sense of smell is located in the catacombs of the most primitive area of
the brain and is extremely powerful. Smell can produce all sorts of physical reactions, ranging from nausea to napping. The amygdala, the brain’s emotional center, is located in the limbic system and is directly connected to the olfactory bulb.
Rage and fear are processed in the amygdala and both contribute to heart disease.
Our studies at Columbia have found that diluted essential oils rubbed on the feet
affected some volunteer’s autonomic nervous system within minutes.
Clinical Aromatherapy, Third Edition, is presented logically, with some necessary background information given at the outset. I expect many readers will go
straight to the clinical section to look at their own specialty. In each specialty, a few
symptoms or problems have been explored and the way in which aromatherapy
might help treat those symptoms or problems is clearly outlined. This third edition is greatly helped by the addition of many tables. There is also a huge increase
in references. Although the clinical chapters will be of particular interest to readers
working in that clinical specialty, I think the book will also be of great interest to
those who want to know what clinical aromatherapy really is and how it can be used
in a scientific way.
Jane Buckle has surpassed the excellence of the second edition and this does not
surprise me. She was the first nurse to win a postdoctoral NIH-funded research fellowship to study an MSc in Epidemiology & Biostatistics in the School of Medicine
at the University of Pennsylvania. No mean feat! She brings a wealth of knowledge
and clinical experience acquired over 30 years in the field. With a PhD in health
service management, a background in critical care nursing, a teaching degree, and
a fistful of degrees from the world of alternative medicine, she writes authoritatively and she speaks from the heart. Jane was a co-presenter with me at The World
Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, several years ago. We were invited to talk
about the economics of alternative medicine and its affect on globalization. I was
impressed by Jane’s passion. An underlying question permeated all her presentations: What can we do to get the caring back into healthcare? When Jane speaks,
people listen.
Jane Buckle is a pioneer and she uses writing, research, and teaching to get her
message across. Her message is one of holism and she inspires those in healthcare to
evaluate how they use simple things like smell and touch to help people heal. In the
United States, many hospitals have integrated clinical aromatherapy and use Jane’s
program. She is still involved in numerous hospital research programs (apart from
our own) and has been a reviewer for NIH grants in the USA and for the NHS in
UK, where she currently lives.
Under her guidance, hundreds of students have carried out small pilot studies
in American hospitals. She has written templates for aromatherapy policies and
protocols that are used by hospitals. Jane Buckle works extraordinarily hard. More
than anyone, she has labored to get the message of clinical aromatherapy across to
health professionals globally, not as a possible add-on, but as a legitimate part of
holistic care.
That achievement alone is remarkable; but she has another string to her bow.
She has pioneered a registered method of touch, called the ‘M’ Technique®. Several
years ago, the ‘M’ Technique was tested in our laboratory at Columbia Presbyterian
and was found to have a pronounced parasympathetic response. While she was
at the University of Pennsylvania, Jane conducted research to compare the effects
of the ‘M’ Technique to conventional massage using brain imaging. The results
showed that the ‘M’ Technique affected a different area of the brain to massage and
the affects appeared to be more relaxing. Today the ‘M’ Technique is used in many
hospitals, hospices, special needs schools, and long-term care facilities because it
is so simple to learn and the effects are measurable in 5 minutes! The technique
definitely is very relaxing (I have experienced it myself!) and eminently suitable for
hospital patients (with or without the use of essential oils), so I am delighted to see
that the ‘M’ Technique has a dedicated chapter in this third edition.
Essential oils offer extraordinary potential from a purely medicinal standpoint.
The infection chapter highlighting studies on MRSA, MDRTB, and other resistant
pathogens shows just how powerful they can be. I think this chapter will be of particular interest to pharmacists as well as those involved in infection control. When
nausea is relieved through the inhalation of peppermint, insomnia is alleviated
through the inhalation of lavender or rose, or Candida albicans is killed by tea tree,
we are witnessing clinical results—not just the “feel-good” factor. Aromatherapy
can work at a clinically significant level.
The subject of clinical aromatherapy is vast and will be of interest to anyone
involved in healthcare as well as pharmaceutical companies and aromatherapists
wanting to learn more. I share a goal with Jane Buckle—to enhance patient care
and give the best of what we have to offer, whatever that may be. As a physician, I
believe clinical aromatherapy has an important role to play in integrative medicine.
Jane Buckle gives us a glimpse of the future and it smells good!
Mehmet Oz
Mehmet Oz, MD, is a cardiac surgeon. He is the Director of the Cardiovascular Institute and
Vice Chairman of the Department of Surgery at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center,
New York, NY. He is the Emmy award-winning host of “The Dr. Oz Show.”
“The biggest threats and dangers we face are the ones we don’t see—not because
they’re secret or invisible, but because we’re willfully blind.”
Margaret Heffernan, 2011
his book is the first fully peer-reviewed, evidence-based book on clinical aromatherapy. The reviewers are professors and experts in their own field from
Australia, Japan, The Netherlands, Turkey, UK, and USA. Their names and affiliations are listed with the chapter they reviewed. I am extremely grateful for their
valued input and time, which has enabled this book to be truly ground-breaking.
Aromatherapy is a multifaceted therapy, so it is not surprising that many people
do not know what it really is. The term “aromatherapy” was coined in France by
a chemist (Gattefossé 1937) and then used by a nurse (Maury 1961) and a doctor
(Valnet 1976). Thus, from the very beginning, the term “aromatherapy” was associated with healthcare. The definition “Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils”
(Gattefossé 1937) is very specific. In 2013, the global market for essential oils was
estimated to be worth $1000 million (Williamson 2013). Essential oils are used in
household goods, cosmetics, by the food and drinks industry, the beauty world, and
more recently in pharmaceutical production. Some essential oils are also used by
the tobacco industry (Lawrence 1994).
Because my initial training was in nursing care, my focus has always been on the
clinical aspects of aromatherapy. By calling it clinical, I strive to put aromatherapy
back where I feel it belongs—in healthcare.
Mehmet Oz, MD, cardiothoracic surgeon at Columbia Presbyterian Medical
Center and now famous for his “Dr. Oz Show,” was one of the first doctors to
realize the potential of aromatherapy. He wrote, “Aromatherapy appears to impact
perceptions of pain” (Oz 1998). At the World Economic Forum at Davos (1999),
I stated: “aromatherapy makes economic sense.” What other complementary
therapy can be used in so many different ways in healthcare, for so many different
symptoms, is inexpensive, easy to use, and smells good?
Aromatherapy is better known for its soft side—for its caring. Florence Nightingale once said: “the cure is in the caring” (Dossey 2000). Clearly, relaxation and
rest are important during illness and following surgery (Nightingale 1859), and the
ability to relax can be greatly enhanced by aromatherapy. However, there is another
side to aromatherapy—the curing side. Tea tree is not used to induce relaxation. It is
used against bacterial, viral, and fungal infections (Carson et al 2006). Currently, the
pharmaceutical industry is struggling to find new drugs to combat resistant infections and some drugs for chronic conditions are losing their potency. At the Gattefossé Foundation colloquium (2010) held in Gattefossé’s family home, I introduced
the concept of Evolutionary Pharmacology (Buckle 2010). Evolutionary Pharmacology (EP) blends a non-standardized essential oil with a conventional drug to
create a medicine that is constantly evolving. I explain more about this in Chapter 7.
This book is about clinical aromatherapy in healthcare and is divided into
three sections. Section I covers the basics of aromatherapy: the evolution of aromatherapy, how essential oils work, basic plant taxonomy, extraction, biosynthesis, chemistry, toxicity, and contraindications. This section also covers how clinical
aromatherapy is already being used in integrative medicine and introduces the ‘M’
Technique ® as a method for relaxation (with or without essential oils). Sections II
and III are both clinically focused. Section II, the General Clinical section, covers
infection, insomnia, nausea and vomiting, pain and inflammation, plus stress and
well-being. Section III covers nine key clinical specialties: Care of the Elderly; Critical Care; Dermatology; Mental Health; Oncology; Palliative, Hospice, and End-ofLife Care; Pediatrics; Respiratory Care; and Women’s Health.
This book is intended to present an overview of what essential oils could do
in healthcare. It is not meant to be a substitute for training. I believe strongly in
education, preferably in a hands-on class where there can be face-to-face discussion
and debate. There is a need for a clear clinical focus. Safety concerns need to be
addressed and protocols and policies need to be written. With these guidelines in
place, clinical aromatherapy can, I believe, enhance patient care and reduce costs.
“Willful blindness” is the legal term given to information that you should or
could know, but disregard. It is estimated that 85% of companies have willful blindness (Heffernan 2011). Heffernan suggests that at a time when we are supposedly
better informed than ever before, we are guilty of frequent and self-destructive
acts of willful blindness. This includes the healthcare industry. Because we are living much longer and because there are no cures for most chronic illnesses, many
healthcare systems are in crisis. Rahm Emanuel (former Chief of Staff at the White
House) said: “Never let a serious crisis go to waste. It’s an opportunity to do things
you think you could not do before (2009).” I believe the healthcare crisis is aromatherapy’s big opportunity. Healthcare can choose willful blindness. Or it can choose
to evolve. Clinical aromatherapy could be part of that evolution.
Buckle J. 2010. Is there a role for essential oils in current and future healthcare? Bulletin Technique
­Fondation Gattefossé. 103:95-110.
Carson C, Hammond K, Riley T. 2006. Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) oil: a review of antimicrobial and
other medicinal properties. Clin Microbiol Rev. 19(1):50-62.
Dossy B. 2000. Florence Nightingale: Mystic, Visionary, Healer. Springhouse, PA: Springhouse.
Emanuel. R. 2009. www.youtube.com/watch?v=VjMTNPXYu-Y.
Gattefossé R-M. 1937. Aromathérapie: Les Huiles Essentielles Hormones Végétales. Ed. Librairie des Sciences Girardot.
Heffernan M. 2011. Willful Blindness. Walker & Company USA. Ted Talk.
Lawrence B. 1994. Production of Clary Sage Oil and Sclareol in North America. Emes Rencontres International. Nyon, France. December 5-7. http://legacy.library.ucsf.edu/documentStore/f/x/d/fxd13c00/
Sfxd13c00.pdf. Accessed March 20, 2014.
Maury M. 1961. Le Capital Jeunesse. Editions de la Tables Rond, Paris.
Nightingale F. 1859. Notes on Nursing: What It Is and What It Is Not. London: Harrison & Sons.
Oz M. 1998. Healing from the Heart. Dutton: New York.
Valnet J. 1976. Aromathérapie: Traitement des Maladies par les Essences des Plantes. Robert Lafont. Paris.
irst, I would like to give a huge thank you to the chapter reviewers who are listed
on the following page. I would also like to give special thanks to the librarians at Panola College and Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital, Fort Worth,
Texas, who helped me with the initial literature searches. Thank you to Rhiannon
Lewis, who sent me all the back copies of her excellent journal International Journal of Clinical Aromatherapy and to Bob Harris, whose aromatherapy database
(http://quintessential.uk.com), helped me find relevant research papers that were
not easily available elsewhere. Thank you to Elsevier for giving me access to the
­Science Direct database. Finally, thank you to my family and friends who waited for
18 months.
CHAPTER 1 Evolution of Aromatherapy
Martha Mathews Libster, PhD, MSN,
APRN-CNS, APHN-BC. Director Golden
Apple Healing Arts. Founding Director www.
BambooBridge.org. Professor of Nursing,
Governors State University, Il, USA
CHAPTER 6 The ‘M’ Technique
Barbara Cordell PhD RN AHN-BCWil. Dean
of Nursing, Panola College, Carthage, Tx,
CHAPTER 7 Infection
Linda L. Halcon, PhD, MPH, RN, Associate
Professor. Chair, Population Health &
Systems Co-operative School of Nursing,
University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN,
CHAPTER 2 How Essential Oils Work
Christine Carson, PhD. School of Medicine &
Pharmacology, University Western Australia,
Crawley & Harry Perkins Institute of Medical
Research, Nedlands, Australia.
CHAPTER 8 Insomnia
Dr George Lewith, MD, FRCP, MRCGP.
Professor of Health Research, University
of Southampton, UK.
CHAPTER 3 Taxonomy, Extraction,
Biosynthesis, Analysis and Chemistry
1) Taxonomy
Arthur Tucker. PhD. Emeritus Professor of
Agriculture & Natural Resources, Delaware
State University, Dover, DE, USA.
2) Extraction, Biosynthesis & Analysis
Stefan Gafner, PhD. Chief Science Officer,
American Botanical Council,
Austin, TX, USA.
3) Chemistry
K Husnu Can Baser. PhD. Professor Faculty
of Pharmacognosy, Anadolu University,
Eskisehir, Turkey
CHAPTER 9 Nausea & Vomiting
Dr Ron Hunt, MD. Anesthesiologist
Carolinas Medical Center, Charlotte, NC,
CHAPTER 10 Pain & Inflammation
Dr Joyce Frye DO, MBA, MSCE, FACOG,
ABIHM, Formerly Clinical Assistant
Professor, Center for Integrative Medicine,
University of Maryland School of Medicine,
Baltimore, MD, USA.
Gloria Duke, PhD, RN. Professor and
Associate Dean, Office of Research &
Scholarship, College of Nursing & Health
Sciences. Chair, UT Tyler Institutional
Review Board Director, UT Tyler Center
for Ethics. The University of Texas at Tyler.
Tyler, Tx, USA.
CHAPTER 4 Toxicity & Contraindications
Elizabeth M. Williamson, PhD, MRPharmS,
FLS. Director of Pharmacy Practice,
University of Reading, UK.
CHAPTER 5 Aromatherapy in Integrative
Mary Jo Assi DNP, RN, NEA-BC, FNP-BC,
AHN-BC. Director of Nursing Practice and
Work Environment at American Nurses
Association. Silver Spring, MD, USA.
CHAPTER 11 Stress & Wellbeing
Dr Kazuyo Yoshiyama, MD. Clinical
Psychiatrist. Director Association of
Complementary & Alternative Medicine for
IMMH (Association of Integrative Medicine
for Mental Health Care). Tokyo, Japan.
CHAPTER 12 Care of the Elderly
Dr Kazuhisa Maeda MD, PhD. Associate
Professor. Dept Complementary &
Alternative Medicine, Osaka University
Graduate School of Medicine, Osaka
University Hospital, Japan.
CHAPTER 13 Critical Care
Dr Stephen Rush, MD. Critical Care Surgery,
Texas Health Harris Methodist Medical
Center, Fort Worth, TX, USA
Diane M. Breckenridge, PhD, MSN, RN, ANEF
Chair and Professor
Department of Nursing
National University
San Diego, CA, USA.
CHAPTER 14 Dermatology
Dr Roberta A Lee, MD. Integrative Medicine/
Internal Medicine, Pantano Clinic, University
of Arizona Medical Center, Tucson, AZ., USA.
CHAPTER 15 Mental Health
Dr Wasyl Nimenko., GP,. Psychotherapist,
London UK
Elizabeth Wilde McCormick, MA.
Psychotherapist. Founder Member
Association for Cognitive Analytic Therapy,
CHAPTER 16 Oncology
Jacqui Stringer, PhD, RGN. Clinical Lead for
Supportive Care Services, The Christie NHS
Foundation Trust, Manchester, UK.
CHAPTER 17 Palliative, Hospice & End of
Life Care
Carole Ann Drick, PhD, RN. President
American Holistic Nursing Association.
Director www.GoldenRoom Advocates.
CHAPTER 18 Pediatrics
Monique van Dijk. PhD RN. Associate
Professor Quality of Care, Dept of Pediatric
Surgery and Pediatrics. Erasmus MC-Sophia
Children’s Hospital, Rotterdam, The
Netherlands. Honorary Associate Professor,
Dept Pediatric Surgery, University of Cape
Town, South Africa.
CHAPTER 19 Respiration
Dr Michael F. Roizen, MD. Chief Wellness
Officer (CWO) and Chair, Wellness Institute
of the Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland, OH, USA.
CHAPTER 20 Women’s Health.
Dr E Joan Barice MD, MPH, FACP. Clinical
Associate Professor of Preventive Medicine
at Nova Southeastern University College of
Medicine, Ft Lauderdale, Affiliate Clinical
Associate Professor of Biomedical Science at
Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, FL,
Section I
1 | The Evolution of Aromatherapy
2 | How Essential Oils Work
3 | Basic Plant Taxonomy, Basic Essential Oil Chemistry, Extraction,
Biosynthesis, and Analysis
4 | Essential Oil Toxicity and Contraindications
5 | Aromatherapy and Integrative Healthcare
6 | The ‘M’ Technique®
ection I is an overview covering the basics of aromatherapy. This section opens
with an overview of the history of aromatic medicine and the emergence of
aromatherapy in the 1940s. How Essential Oils Work is self-explanatory—
how and why essential oils affect us. Chapter 3 covers what an essential oil really is,
from basic plant taxonomy, through extraction, biosynthesis, and analysis to the
basic chemistry of essential oils. Chapter 4 covers toxicity and contraindications
(the “when and why not” aspects of aromatherapy). Chapter 5 places aromatherapy
within Integrative Medicine. Chapter 6 introduces the ‘M’ Technique®—a registered
method of gentle structured touch that I have pioneered over the last 20 years or so,
that is very easy to learn and has profound relaxation effects.
The Evolution of Aromatherapy
“The fallen angel of the senses…a potent wizard that transports us across thousands
of miles and all the years we have lived.”
Helen Keller
The use of aromatic plants was originally part of herbal medicine. Herbal medicine
dates back thousands of years and is not confined to any one geographical area.
Residual patterns of use and trade in contemporary society suggest that nearly every
part of the world has some history of the use of aromatic plants in its healthcare
system. The use of technology in the distillation of essential oils from aromatic
plants that forms the basis for contemporary “aromatherapy,” as we know it, is
much more recent. However, among the many countries that have a documented
history of using aromatic plants in their healing traditions are China, Egypt, France,
Greece, India, Iraq, Syria (was part of Mesopotamia), Switzerland, Tibet, UK, and
the United States (Native Americans). Early aromatics were used in the form of
steams, smokes, inhalants, fumigants, snuffs, salves, lotions, compresses, poultices,
waters, colognes, perfumes, and baths.
One of the most famous manuscripts concerning aromatic medicines is the Papyrus Ebers manuscript written around 2800 BC. Another document, written about
800 years later, mentions “fine oils and choice perfumes.” These manuscripts, written while the Great Pyramid was being built, show that frankincense, myrtle, galbanum, and eaglewood were used as medicines during the time of Moses (from the Old
Testament) and myrrh was used to treat hay fever. When Tutankhamun’s tomb was
opened in 1922, thirty-five alabaster jars of perfume were found in his burial chamber
and they were still faintly aromatic. All of them were broken or empty and the contents—frankincense and myrrh (highly valued commodities)—stolen (Steele 1992).
Iraq, France, Syria
One of the earliest documented uses of aromatics dates back 60,000 years to the
findings in a burial site of a Neanderthal skeleton found in the land that is now Iraq.
The skeleton was found buried with concentrated extracts of yarrow, knapweed,
grape hyacinth, mallow, and other plants (Erichsen-Brown 1979). Yarrow is an
CHAPTER 1 | The Evolution of Aromatherapy
aromatic herb used in herbal medicine and the essential oil is used in aromatherapy.
In France, drawings dating back 17,300 years found in a cave in Lascaux, France,
showed medicinal herbs (Ryman 1991). Later, the Cathars would live in this region
and become famous for their use of herbal remedies. The Sumerians, who lived in
Syria, were sophisticated herbalists. There are records of them using caraway and
thyme and pots that could have been used in plant distillation have been found. In
the Epic of Gilgamesh, a Sumerian poet writes, “There is a plant whose thorns will
prick your hand like a rose. If your hands reach that plant you will become a young
man again” (Swerdlow 2000).
The Great Herbal (Pen Ts’ao) was written by Shen Nung in 2800 BC. It lists 350
plants and many are still being used today. One of them is the herb Ephedra sinica.
This was one of the herbs found in the Neanderthal grave in Iraq. Huang Ti (Yellow
Emperor) wrote the Huang Ti Nei Ching Su Wen. The English translation is called
The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine (Rose 1992). Today, a huge concrete statue of ginseng presides over the state-run herbal market in Anguo, China
(3 hours south of Beijing), suggesting how important herbs are in Chinese culture
today. The Chinese method of soaking a cloth in herbs (compress) and placing it
on the skin indicates how the Chinese have always accepted transdermal delivery—
something Western medicine denied for many years. There is a great similarity
between Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine, and as early as 1000 BC, China was
exchanging herbs with India (Swerdlow 2000).
The first Sanskrit medical treatises, Charaka Samhita and Sushrata Sambita, date back
to 2000 BC and describe the use of 700 plants, including aromatics such as ginger,
coriander, myrrh, cinnamon, and sandalwood (Swerdlow 2000). The Charaka Samhita
includes descriptions for the processes of distillation and condensation of volatile oils
from plants (Ray & Gupta 1965). Ayurvedic medicine was pushed underground by
the Muslim invasion of India in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, and later by the
British occupation. The British prohibited the funding of Ayurvedic colleges and clinics.
India fought back in 1921 with a document presented to the British government in
Madras, India, stating that no Western scientist should think of criticizing Ayurveda
until he had learned Sanskrit (Swerdlow 2000). In the last few decades Ayurveda has
become popular again, in part because of the influence of Deepak Chopra, MD (Chopra
1991). Ayurveda has a strong spiritual base, and in northern India, Ayurvedic physicians are known as holy men. Interestingly, traditional Indian shamans were known
as perfumeros and were healers who used the scents of aromatic plants (Steele 1991).
Today, aromatics remain an important part of Ayurvedic medicine.
Tibetan medicine is based on the Four Tantras of Tibetan Medicine, written in
the eighth century. This whole medical system is similar to Chinese medicine
SECTION I | Overview
and focuses on the relationship of the person with the environment and society
in which the person lives, rather than the disease. Tibetan medicine has traditionally used aromatic herbs, often in steam. Prescriptions are usually complex
mixtures such as Aquilaria A that contains clove, cardamom, sandalwood, and
myrrh (Lawless 1992).
Theophrastus was a pupil of Aristotle and inherited the botanical garden at Athens
that Aristotle had planted (Stearn 1998). In 300 BC, Theophrastus wrote Enquiry
into Plants, in which he described specific uses for aromatics. At that time doctors
who used aromatic unctions were called latralyptes. One aromatic formula, called
Kyphi, contained 16 different ingredients. Kyphi was used as an antiseptic, an
antidote to poison, soothed the skin and also “lulled one to sleep, allayed anxiety
and brightened dreams.” It was Theophrastus, later called the “father of botany”
(Ryman 1991), who discovered the perfume of jasmine was stronger at night. Hippocrates (who lived around 460 BC) is recognized as the father of medicine. He
wrote “aromatic baths are useful in the treatment of female disorders, and would
often be useful for the other conditions too” (Chadwick & Mann 1983). He seemed
to understand the principles of psychosomatic disorders when he wrote, “In order
to cure the human body it is necessary to have knowledge of the whole” (Lawless
1994). Hippocrates also knew aromatics could have important antibacterial properties, and when an epidemic of plague broke out he urged the people to use aromatic
plants to protect themselves and stop the spread of the disease. He also wrote, “the
growth of plants forms an excellent parallel to the study of medicine” (Chadwick &
Mann 1983).
Greek army doctors traveled with large supplies of herbal remedies. A manual
written for the Emperor Claudius in 43 AD gives detailed instructions on how to
recognize plants abroad, pick, and pack them.
Dioscorides (Pedanius Dioscorides) lived around 100 AD. He wrote De Materia
Medica. This foundation of Western herbal medicine covers 700 plants that were in
use including aromatics like basil, verbena, cardamom, rose, rosemary, and garlic
(Holmes 1993). The plants are carefully drawn, described, and the contraindications
listed (Griggs 1981). Dioscorides suggests that tarragon (Artemesia dracunculus) might
be useful for cancer, for gangrene, to produce abortions, and to protect against
viper bites. Tarragon was later used by a number of Native American tribes such as
the Chippewa people, who decocted the leaf or root for “stoppage of periods…A
decoction of the whole plant was taken as an aid in difficult labor (Moerman 1998,
p. 95).
When Claudios Galenos (known in English as Galen) was appointed personal
physician to Emperor Marcus (130 to 200 AD) he introduced a system for identifying plants (Griggs 1981). He also described a plant’s energetic profile, which is
similar to Chinese and Ayurvedic approaches. This approach is continued today
with contemporary writers (Holmes 1993; Mojay 2000). Unfortunately, many of
the 500 works he wrote were destroyed when his clinic in Rome burned down.
CHAPTER 1 | The Evolution of Aromatherapy
Galen described a disease in terms of temperature and moisture thus laying the
cornerstone of modern pathophysiology (Lawless 1994).
During the immediate pre-Christian era, Jewish women in Essene communities
infused wine with myrrh and frankincense (for their anesthetic effects) to offer those
being tortured. The early Christian era considered aromatics to be pagan because
they could heighten sensual pleasure. In 529 AD, Pope Gregory the Great passed a
law banning all Materia Medica. The school of philosophy at Athens closed down,
and the works of Galen and Hippocrates were smuggled to Syria. There the works
of Galen, Hippocrates, and Dioscorides were translated into Arabic by Hunayn ibn
Ishaq al’Ibadi. He was paid with his weight in gold.
In the prologue to The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer describes four Arabic physicians. Arabic doctors were considered the greatest medical authorities in the fourteenth century. One of Chaucer’s physicians is an historical figure known as Ibn
Sina—later called Avicenna (Tschanz 1997). New aromatics such as senna, camphor, tamarind, nutmeg, and cloves were introduced. Rose and orange-blossom
water were used to make medicines taste more palatable. Arabic physicians were
familiar with the anesthetic effect of inhaled henbane and they used topical sugar
to staunch bleeding. (Sugar promotes new cell growth by drying the bed of the
wound and dehydrating the bacteria there.) This practice is sometimes still used
today (Swerdlow 2000).
By the third century AD, Alexandria had become a center for aromatic medicine. At the start of the ninth century, the first private apothecary shops opened in
Baghdad. Medicines were manufactured and distributed commercially to physicians
and pharmacists who dispensed them to the public as pills, tinctures, suppositories,
and inhalants.
Abd Allah ibn Sina (980–1037) was born in what is now called Bukhara in Uzbekistan.
His name was later westernized into Avicenna. Ibn Sina was to the Arabic world
what Aristotle was to the Greeks. He was a child prodigy: a scholar who at the age
of 10 could recite the entire Koran and who went on to excel in medicine, poetry,
math, physics, and philosophy. When he was 20, ibn Sina was appointed court physician. He wrote more than 20 medical texts including the Canon of Medicine, which
remained a standard medical textbook until the sixteenth century (Lawless 1994).
The Canon lists 760 medicinal plants and the drugs that can be derived from them.
Ibn Sina also laid out the basic rules of clinical drug trials, principles that are still
followed today (Tschanz 1997).
Ibn Sina is thought to have invented an apparatus for distilling essential
oils called an alembic. During the tenth century many classic texts were translated from Arabic to Latin, and ibn Sina’s Canon of Medicine first appeared in
Europe in the twelfth century. It is interesting that Constantinus Africus and
Gerard of Cremorna (who translated the text together) came from two different
SECTION I | Overview
worlds—Arabic and Christian. The joint project was possible because the two
scholars lived in towns close to the border dividing the Arabic and Christian
worlds at that time. Ibn Sina’s portrait still hangs in the great hall of the School
of Medicine at the University of Paris, and Dante Alighieri held him in the same
regard as Hippocrates and Galen.
By the thirteenth century, “the perfumes of Arabia” mentioned by Shakespeare had
spread to Europe. Bad odors were thought to harbor disease (interestingly malaria
literally translated means bad air), and being surrounded by pleasant odors was
supposed to give protection against disease, especially the plague. Physicians wore
birdlike masks containing aromatics to protect themselves (Boeckl 2000). They also
carried plague torches (fragrant herbs and aromatic resins burning in a tiny brazier
at the top of a long stick) and sprinkled houses affected by disease with aromatic
waters like eau de cologne (Stoddart 1990).
Glovemakers in London became licensed to impregnate their wares with
essential oils, and legend has it this is why so many glovemakers and perfumers
survived the Great Plague. Scent boxes and pomanders containing solid perfumes
(which originated in the East) became popular among the aristocracy. During this
time the Abbess of Bingen, St. Hildegarde, wrote four books on medicinal plants.
By the sixteenth century, many Europeans had written their own collective works
on herbs and aromatics. With the Renaissance and subsequent world exploration, many spices were added to Europe’s knowledge of herbs. Cocoa (Theobroma
cacao) was discovered in South America and tea tree (Melalauca alternifolia) in
Native Americans
Some tribes of Native Americans treated wounds with a tree gum, for example,
from the fir tree (Abies balsamea L.). They treated dysentery and other diseases
with cedar leaves, and they used sweat lodges to promote spiritual healing.
Native Americans also used narcotic plants such as water hemlock (Cicuta maculata) in topical applications, vigorously scratching the skin until it bled before
applying the herb. Native American (NA) medicine has produced many plant
remedies such as Black cohosh root (Cimicifuga racemosa) for musculoskeletal
pain, headache and as an aid for labor and hormonal imbalances (Low Dog &
Riley 2001) and witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) decoction of prepared
twig bark for sore throat, colds, pain, dysentery and to purify blood (Liebster
2014). NA medicine is regaining the respect it held in the nineteenth century
and NA traditional healers are becoming more respected for the depth, history, and sophistication of their medicine (Erichsen-Brown 1979). One of its
advocates, Tieraona Low Dog, MD (Lakota tribe), an eminent physician and
herbalist, served on the advisory Council for the National Institutes of Health
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM)
until 2010.
CHAPTER 1 | The Evolution of Aromatherapy
Paracelsus was born Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombast von Hohenheim
in 1493 near Zurich, Switzerland. Although his father was a physician, it is unclear
whether Paracelsus ever completed his medical training. He wandered from university to university and was something of a rebel. He learned herbal medicine from
the Tartars in Asia and he learned anatomy from executioners. While he was on
his travels he changed his name to Paracelsus. He was a controversial figure who
angered the orthodox medical community by burning Avicenna’s work at a public
bonfire in Basel, Switzerland. Paracelsus was frustrated by what he felt were old
principles. He questioned Galen’s work and thought the plethora of herbal manuals
in circulation were written by “quacks” who abused sick people’s lack of knowledge,
and were only after quick money. He wanted something innovative and new. He
became the subject of legends, some suggesting he had magic powers and could conjure
a hurricane with a twirl of his hat (Swerdlow 2000).
Paracelsus believed the way forward was to isolate an active ingredient from
a plant. He believed isolating the active ingredient would enhance the medicine’s
strength and increase its safeness. He used mercury, iron, sulfur, and antimony
as well as herbs. Although Paracelsus remained fascinated by alchemy all his life
(Griggs 1981), he was also a strong believer in the doctrine of signatures: that plants
indicate the organ or system of the body they can help by their shape or the place
where they grow. Paracelsus wrote 14 books and was very successful.
Although a specific action of a plant may appear to depend on a single chemical constituent, isolating it may not make the effect more active or safer. However,
plants have their own synergistic action that is irreplaceable. In the plant world,
the sum of the parts really does add up to more than the total (Mills 1991). If the
most active constituent is removed and applied in isolation, it may have a different effect or negative side effects. The ability of one part of a plant to “switch off”
negative properties of another part is sometimes called quenching (Tisserand 2013).
For example, isolated citral (an aldehyde found in lemongrass) produces a more
severe sensitization reaction at a lower concentration than the complete essential
oil, which contains a higher percentage of citral (Api & Isola 2000).
This concept is further demonstrated by separating all the active ingredients
of an essential oil, then recombining them. They will not necessarily produce the
same effect as the complete essential oil (or herb). Therefore, Paracelsus could be
regarded as the first medical pharmacologist.
Descartes (1596–1650) declared that man was a machine thus mind and body
had no relationship to each another. Descartes’ philosophy was “cognito, ergo sum,”
or “I think, therefore I am” (Cook 1978). The idea that an aromatic could have an
effect on the body via the brain was discarded until the eighteenth century, when
a physician called Gaub suggested that “bodily diseases may often be alleviated or
cured by the mind and emotions” (Lawless 1994). Today we know that smell affects
the mind (Littrell 2008). Also, the mind is not an isolated, single organ, but connected to every cell in our body and affects the way a person feels (Pert 1997). Today
SECTION I | Overview
we know that how we feel in mind, body, and spirit has a direct impact on our
health—our inner terrain is vital to our health (Libster 2009).
United Kingdom
William Turner (1520–1568) was one of the earliest documented male herbalists
in England—prior to him there had been many women nurses and midwives who
used herbs. A Cambridge graduate, he believed in the doctrine of signatures and
named many plants, such as lungwort and liverwort, to indicate their use. At this
time, qualifying to become a physician took 10 years. Shakespeare’s son-in-law John
Hall called himself a physician, although he had only a Master of Arts degree. However, this did not stop him from purchasing 300 plants, “practicing” medicine, and
leaving notes from 178 different cases. One of his patients was the Earl of Compton
who lived 40 miles away: several days’ journey by horseback (Swerdlow 2000).
During Shakespeare’s time, midwives, apothecaries (pharmacists), and physicians prescribed medicines. In an attempt to control the situation, the British
Parliament introduced new laws in 1512 that controlled the prescription and sale
of medicines. Six years later, the Royal College of Physicians was established in
However, the seventeenth century is remembered as the golden era for herbal
medicine. Nicholas Culpeper published his Complete Herbal in 1660. Essential oils
were widely used in “mainstream” medicine. In William Salmon’s The Compleat
English Physician, essential oils of cinnamon, lavender, lemon, clove, and rue are
listed with others in a recipe to “cheer and comfort all the spirits, natural, vital and
animal” (Tisserand 1979). In 1770, the British Parliament passed a law to protect men
from the “guiles of perfumed women” who might trick them into matrimony as
the “witchcraft of scent could manipulate their mind” (Watson 2000). The United
States followed with a paper published in the New York Medical Journal on the
“connections of the sexual apparatus with the ear, nose and throat” suggesting perfume was a conscious attempt to “stimulate lecherous thoughts” (Dabney 1913). I
wonder what they would think of modern perfume advertising!
In 1992, the first scientific evaluation of essential oils was published in William
Whitla’s Materia Medica and Therapeutics. The industrial and scientific revolutions
followed. During the next two centuries scores of essential oils were analyzed. It was
thought important to identify and isolate therapeutic components of plants (just as
Paracelsus had advocated). In the late 1890s specific components such as geraniol
and citronellol were identified, and in 1868 William Henry Perkin announced the
synthesis of coumarin.
Modern Drug Development
Synthetic copies of perfumes and aromatics began to appear, and the era of modern
drug development dawned. The salicylate in willow bark (Salix alba) became aspirin.
Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) became digoxin. Despite research on the therapeutic
effects of essential oils by Cadeac and Meunier in France and Gatti and Cajola in Italy,
essential oils and herbal medicine lost out to the profits of synthetic drugs. With the
CHAPTER 1 | The Evolution of Aromatherapy
1930 partnership of Rockefeller in the United States and Faben in Germany, the petrochemical pharmaceutical industry became a major economic and political force.
The 1910 Flexner report on the nation’s medical schools (funded by the Carnegie
Foundation) changed medical training in the United States and homeopathic and
naturopathic medical schools in the United States were mostly eliminated. Herbal
medicine, including the use of aromatics, was excluded from medical school curricula. Drug companies became major underwriters of medical colleges in the United
States, the main funders of the American Medical Association and 90% of all medical research. It is encouraging that medical training in the United States is currently
under review as it is thought to be ‘incomplete’ and does not produce a ‘humane’
physician (Doukas et al 2010).
The renaissance of aromatherapy began in France. It was a clinical affair and initially involved only three people: a chemist (Gattefossé), a physician (Valnet) and
a nurse (Maury).
Rene-Maurice Gattefossé: Chemist
Gattefossé (1881–1950) discovered aromatherapy through an accident. In 1910, while
working in his laboratory, he was burnt in an explosion. He ran outside and rolled
on the grass to extinguish the flames. A few days later the wounds became infected
with gas gangrene but “one rinse of essential oil of lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)” stopped the infection (Tisserand 1989). Impressed, Gattefossé dedicated his
life to researching essential oils. Many of his patients were soldiers wounded in the
trenches of World War I. He used essential oils such as thyme, chamomile, clove,
and lemon. Until World War II, those essential oils were used to disinfect wounds and
to sterilize surgical instruments (Ryman 1991). Gattefossé is thought to be one of
the first people to use the word aromatherapy. He discovered that essential oils take
between 30 minutes and 12 hours to be absorbed completely by the body after being
applied topically. His work Aromatherapie: The Essential Oils—Vegetable Hormones
(giving detailed medical case studies performed by various physicians) was published
in France in 1937. The manuscript was discovered by Jeanne Rose, translated into
English by Louise Davies, edited by Robert Tisserand and published in 1993.
Gattefossé’s son, Henri-Marcel, took his father’s interests into the pharmaceutical
world and modern drug development. However, he himself self-medicated with
essential oils (Moyrand 2010) and continued to research essential oils. In 2008, The
Gateffossé Foundation was established by Sophie Gattefossé–Moyrand to pay tribute
to her grandfather. In 2010, the 44th Journée Galéniques (annual meeting held at
Gattefossé’s home) was dedicated to the future of aromatherapy in healthcare. I was
honored to be the closing speaker. My talk was entitled “Is there a role for essential
oils in current and future healthcare?” (Buckle 2010).
Throughout World War II, French physicians used essential oils on infected
wounds and as a treatment for gangrene. Perhaps the course of aromatic medicine
SECTION I | Overview
would have been different if Alexander Fleming had not discovered a piece of moldy
bread that led to the manufacture of penicillin. With the emergence of manufactured antibiotics—full of promise, profit, and easy availability—essential oils fell by
the wayside.
Jean Valnet: Medical Doctor
Valnet (1920–1995), an army physician who was awarded the Légion d’Honneur
for his bravery in the resistance in World War II and worked at the Military Special
school of Saint-Cyr, spent much of his life researching aromatherapy. His publication Aromatherapie (Valnet 1969) was the first aromatherapy book written by a
doctor: full of case studies and citing numerous references. During his time in Indochina, when he was commander of an advanced surgical unit, Valnet used essential
oils with the full approval of his superiors. However, despite impressive results,
when he returned to France he found the orthodox medical community unhappy
with his use of “unconventional medicine” and they tried to strike him from the
general medical list. Fortunately, some of his patients were high-ranking government officials, including the Minister of Health, so this did not happen (Scott 19931994). Valnet’s book has been translated into many languages. It was translated into
English (The Practice of Aromatherapy) by Libby Houston and Robin Campbell,
edited by Robert Tisserand and published in 1982. When Valnet was interviewed by
Christine Scott for the International Journal of Aromatherapy in 1993, he said “it is
not necessary to be a doctor to use aromatherapy. But one has to know the power of
essential oils in order to avoid accidents and incidents” (Scott 1993-1994).
Marguerite Maury: Nurse
Marguerite Maury’s life was initially one of tragedy. Born in Austria, she married
and had her first child while still a teenager. Sadly her son died from meningitis
when he was only 2 years old. Shortly afterward, her husband was killed in action,
and his death was closely followed by her father’s suicide. Keen to make a new
start, Marguerite decided to move to France and train as a nurse. While working
in France as a surgical assistant, she met and married Dr. Maury. He shared her
fascination with alternative approaches to medicine, and together they formed a
cohesive and inspirational team.
Marguerite Maury classified the use of essential oils into various clinical departments: surgery, radiology, dermatology, gynecology, general medicine, psychiatry,
spa treatment, physiotherapy, sports, and cosmetics. She won two international
prizes for her research on essential oils and the skin, and her book Le Capital
Jeunesse was published in 1961 and translated into English three years later. She
developed a unique method of applying essential oils to the skin with massage and
established the first aromatherapy clinics in Paris, Great Britain, and Switzerland
where she studied the rejuvenating properties of essential oils on the skin. Her students
included Micheline Arcier and Daniel Ryman.
Gattefossé, Valnet, and Maury were pioneers of modern aromatherapy, and
there were two now-famous names waiting in the wings to follow. Tisserand’s
CHAPTER 1 | The Evolution of Aromatherapy
ground-breaking work in translating the first two books on aromatherapy (and later
writing his own books and establishing training) led the way. Shirley Price followed
and her book Aromatherapy for Health Professionals helped to make aroma­therapy
into a recognized therapy in England and sparked the interest of the medical and
nursing community. I remember reviewing parts of the first edition so many years
ago now! Many researchers followed. Of particular note are Guenther, Duke, and
Lawrence in the United States; Belaiche in France; Deans and Svoboda in the UK;
and Penfold and Carson in Australia, all of whom wrote extensively about the clinical use of essential oils. Today, there is a wealth of information and sufficient evidence
to suggest the medicine of the future could be a sweet-smelling one.
Some people believe aromatherapy means just inhalation. Others believe aromatherapy means aromatherapy massage. Physicians in France define aromatherapy
to mean the inclusion of essential oils via oral, rectal, and vaginal routes. Clearly, different levels of types of training are required and need to be relevant to the student.
Herbal Medicine
Although aromatherapy is a science and practice that is distinct from herbal medicine,
the study and application of essential oils in herbal medicine is not. Essential oils are
included in the botany curriculum in herbal medicine courses and programs. Most
herbalists practice with whole plant applications rather than plant constituents, such as
essential oils. However, it is not unusual for a medicinal grade essential oil to be produced or utilized in the practice of a traditional or medical herbalist. The herbalist who
uses essential oils represents themselves as an herbalist rather than as an aromatherapist.
Mind-Body Medicine
The fragrance of plants such as lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) holds, as Carl Jung
knew, an important place in contemporary holistic mental health and mind-body
care. Mind-body practitioners often partner with aromatherapists, or utilize simple
applications of essential oils in practice in creating healing environments that demonstrate the ways plants can lift the spirits of their clients.
Massage and Bodywork
Aromatherapy is not part of massage or bodywork training but the use of essential
oils in the preparation of massage oils and lotions may be included in initial training
programs and in continuing education courses.
Energy Medicine
Aromatherapy does not really fit here either, so it is hardly surprising that one of
the largest surveys on integrative medicine in the United States (Horrigan et al
2012) did not include aromatherapy, even though aromatherapy is used in several of
the partici­pating centers. One of the authors explained that aromatherapy was not
SECTION I | Overview
listed because “not enough centers were using it as an intervention in a clinical protocol.” However, the survey did find that aromatherapy products were sold in nearly
40% of centers surveyed.
Perhaps the many different methods of use and absorption and the wide span
of symptoms that aromatherapy can address (depression to MRSA) have slowed the
integration of aromatherapy into a clinical setting. Clearly, there is work to be done
to get clinical aromatherapy accepted as a modality in its own right. Patients say it
works. Nurses and doctors say it works. Other health professionals say it works. The
clinical evidence may be mainly anecdotal, although the body of published research
is growing rapidly. However, if something works, people use it. Good medicine is
often based on practice-based evidence (PBE) rather than evidence-based practice
(EBP). Published research is important, but it often lags behind practice. Clinical
aromatherapy is effective, safe, and pleasant to use and receive; has few side effects;
and is cost efficient. It also makes our hospitals nicer places to work in. A major
collaborative effort is needed to bring together all clinical information so a “clinical
pattern” can become clear. That pattern will be the basis for future research. The
proposed template for such an effort is in the appendix.
Smell is now recognized as one of the most important senses in humans and
a key determinant in behavior (Hoover 2010; Auffarth 2013; Croy et al 2013;
­Hoskison 2013). However, aromatherapy is not about smelling anything. The definition of aromatherapy specifically states “the use of essential oils” (Tissserand &
Young 2013, p. 2), (Price & Price 2012, p. 3). Plants can synthesize two types of oil:
fixed oils—for example, olive or walnut oil, and essential oils—highly volatile from
aromatic plants such as rose or lavender. Essential oils are either steam distillates
from aromatic plants or obtained through expression (abrading) the peel of citrus
fruit. Solvent extracted materials such as absolutes, resinoids, or carbon dioxide
extracted oils are not classified as essential oils.
Gattefossé first coined the word aromatherapy and as seen above, the emergence of
aromatherapy from France in the 1930s was clearly clinical. However, I think today
there are three types of aromatherapy: aesthetic, clinical, and holistic.
Aesthetic Aromatherapy
Aesthetic aromatherapy is about using an essential oil for the pleasure of its aroma.
The beautiful smell of roses or orange blossom can make us all smile with delight.
The Duchess of Cambridge chose orange blossom candles to perfume Westminster
abbey on her wedding day (29 April 2011) and add olfactory pleasure to the occasion
of her marriage to Prince William. Essential oils are still used in some expensive
perfumes (such as Joy by Jean Patou) but many have been replaced by cheaper synthetics. A specific “British smell” was required for the bouquets of flowers handed
to medalists at the 2012 London Olympic games. The bouquets chosen for the
games included roses, lavender, rosemary, and mint (Cawley 2012).
CHAPTER 1 | The Evolution of Aromatherapy
Clinical Aromatherapy
Clinical aromatherapy is about targeting a specific clinical symptom (e.g., nausea)
and measuring the outcome. French aromatherapists Gattefossé and Belaiche each
wrote books about clinical aromatherapy from a pharmacist’s and physician’s point
of view, respectively. Although aesthetic aromatherapy may not be part of the remit
of a nurse, occupational therapist, physical therapist, or physician, clinical aromatherapy clearly is. Clinical aromatherapy can be subdivided into Medical aromatherapy (this includes oral use) and Nursing aromatherapy (this covers internal
skin use but not oral use). In France, Germany, and Switzerland, the oral use of
essential oils lies within the remit of physicians.
Holistic Aromatherapy
Holistic aromatherapy is the term used by many aromatherapists the world over.
Holistic means mind, body, and spirit. Holistic aromatherapy usually involves mixtures of essential oils. For many therapists, aromatherapy may be a simple add-on
using a ready-made mixture to relax or energize their client. I have received aromatherapy massages myself in several different countries. The massage was usually
great, but the aromatherapy mixture was often a purchased proprietary blend and
the therapist knew little, if anything, about the individual essential oils in the mixture. However, there are holistic aromatherapists who know a great deal about the
essential oils they use and who make up mixtures for individual clients based on the
client’s individual needs.
Api A, Isola D. 2000. Quenching of citral sensitization demonstrated in a human repeated insult patch
test. Contact Dermatitis. 46. (Suppl 4). p 37.
Auffarth B. 2013. Understanding smell. The olfactory stimulus problem. Neuroscience and Biobehavioural
Reviews. 37(8): 1667–1679.
Boeckl C. 2000. Images of Plague and Pestilence: Iconography and Iconology. Truman State University
Press. Kirksville, Missouri, USA.
Buckle J. 2010. Aromatherapy: is there a role for essential oils in current and future healthcare? Bulletin
Technique Gattefosse. 103-2010. p 95–102.
Charaka Samhita: A Scientific Synopsis. Ed Ray, P. & Gupta, H. Indian National Science Academy, New
Delhi. 1965
Cawley L. BBC News 2012. British smell is key to London 2012 Olympic victory bouquets.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-essex-19160168. Accessed January 8, 2013.
Chadwick J, Mann W (eds.). 1983. Hippocratic Writings. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin Books.
Chopra D. 1991. Perfect Health: The Complete Mind/Body Guide. New York: Harmony Books.
Cook C (ed.). 1978. Pears Cyclopedia, 87th ed. London: Pelham, B19.
Croy I, Bojanowski V, Hummel T. 2013. Men without a sense of smell exhibit a strongly reduced number
of sexual relationships, women exhibit reduced partnership security – a reanalysis of previously published
data. Biological Psychology. 92(2): 292–294.
Dabney V. 1913. Connections of the sexual apparatus with the ear, nose and throat. New York Journal
of Medicine. 97, 533.
Doukas D, McCullough L, Wear S. 2010. Re-visioning Flexner: educating physicians to be clinical scientists
and humanists. American Journal of Medicine. 123(12):1155–1156.
Erichsen-Brown C. 1979. Medicinal and Other Uses of North American Plants. New York: Dover Publications.
SECTION I | Overview
Griggs B. 1981. Green Pharmacy. London: Jill Norman & Hobhouse.
Holmes P. 1993. The Energetics of Western Herbs. Vols. 1 and 2. Berkley, CA: Nattrop Publishing.
Hoover K. 2010. Smell with inspiration: the evolutionary significance of olfaction. American Journal of
Physical Anthropology 143 Suppl 51:63–74.
Horrigan B, Abrams D, Pechura C, 2012. Integrative Medicine in America: How Integrative Medicine
is being practices in clinical centers across the United States. Global Advances in Health & Medicine.
Hoskison E. 2013. Olfaction, pheremones and life. J Laryngol Otol. 127(12):1156–1159.
Lawless J. 1992. The Encyclopedia of Essential Oils. Shaftesbury, UK: Element Books.
Lawless J. 1994. Aromatherapy and the Mind. London: Thorsons.
Libster M. 2009. Behind the Shield: A perspective on H1N1 from the inner terrain. Journal of Holistic
Nursing 27: 218–221.
Liebster M. 2014. Personal communication.
Littrell J. 2008. The body-mind connection: not just a theory anymore. Social Works Health Care.
Low Dog T, Riley D. 2001. An integrative approach to menopause. Alternative Therapies in Health and
Medicine. 7(4) 45–55.
Mills S. 1991. Out of the Earth. London: Viking Arkana.
Moerman D. 1998. Native American Ethnobotany. Timber Press: Portland Oregon.
Mojay G. 2000. Aromatherapy for Healing the Spirit. London: Giai Books, Ltd.
Moyrand S. 2010. Foreword. Bulletin Technique Gattefosse 103-2010. P 4–5.
Pert C. 1997. Molecules of Emotion. New York: Scribner, 304.
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New Delhi.
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Ryman D. 1991. Aromatherapy. London: Piatkus.
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Steele J. 1992. Anthropology of smell and scent in fragrance. In Van Toller S, Dodd G (eds.), Fragrance:
The Psychology and Biology of Perfume. London: Elsevier Applied Science, 287–302.
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Stoddart D. 1990. The Scented Ape. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 5.
Swerdlow J. 2000. Nature’s Medicine: Plants That Heal. Washington, DC: National Geographic Society.
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How Essential Oils Work
“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.”
Oliver Wendell Holmes
TABLE 2-1 | Some Human Studies of Essential Oils Absorbed Into/Through the External
Skin, 17
TABLE 2-2 | Some Human Studies of Essential Oils Absorbed Through the Internal
Skin, 17
TABLE 2-3 | Some Human Studies of Essential Oils Absorbed Through the Nose, 23
TABLE 2-4 | Some Human Studies of Essential Oils Given Orally, 29
FIGURE 2-1 | How essential oils are absorbed through the skin, 16
FIGURE 2-2 | How essential oils are absorbed through the nose, 22
FIGURE 2-3 | How essential oils are absorbed and excreted, 31
The study of how essential oils are absorbed and excreted is called pharmacokinetics.
Essential oils can be absorbed via olfaction, through the external skin, through the
“internal skin” lining of orifices (mouth, vagina, and anus) and via ingestion (Jager
et al 1992) (Figure 2-1 and Tables 2-1 and 2-2).
How Essential Oils Are Absorbed
There is published research to show inhaled essential oils can a) affect the human
brain or lungs, b) be absorbed through the skin (both internal and external) and
c) be absorbed by ingestion. Essential oils contain many different chemical components, and it is these components that are absorbed by the body. Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) essential oil is not found in the bloodstream, but linalyl acetate
and linalool (two major components in lavender essential oil) can be found in the
bloodstream after inhalation, topical (internal or external) application, or ingestion
(Kasper et al 2010).
SECTION I | Overview
Drug layer
Structural layer
Anchor layer
active site
Skin lipids
Drug dissolves
Adhesional forces
Potential irritants/
target site
FIGURE 2-1 | How essential oils are absorbed through the skin. (From Clarke S. Essential
Chemistry for Safe Aromatherapy. Churchill Livingstone. 2002.)
Essential oil components can be absorbed by four routes:
1.Topical: via external skin using massage, ‘M’ Technique, compress, or bath.
2.Inhaled: directly or indirectly, with or without steam using diffusers, aromastones, fans, humidifiers, aromasticks individual patches, individual packets or
nostril clips.
3.Internal: via internal skin using mouthwashes, gargles, douches, pessaries or
4.Oral: using gelatin capsules or diluted in honey, alcohol, or dispersant. Each method
of application has its own physiologic process, advantages and disadvantages.
Topical Absorption
The Skin
The skin is the largest organ in the body and is a complex membrane, varying from
less than a millimeter thick on the eyelid, to approximately 3-mm thick on the back.
For many years the skin (stratum corneum) was thought to be a barrier that topically applied drugs, or essential oils, could not penetrate. Now we know that drugs
such as acyclovir can reach the basal epidermal cells (Hasler-Nguyen et al 2009).
Grégoire et al (2009) developed a model to predict the mass of a chemical absorbed
into/through the skin from a cosmetic or dermatological formulation. Autoradiography has demonstrated both a) penetration to the dermis and b) deposition and
retention sites within the epidermis, after topical application of drugs (Hayakawi
et al 2004). When molecules are small enough, medicines (such as nitroglycerine,
CHAPTER 2 | How Essential Oils Work
TABLE 2-1 Some Human Studies of Essential Oils Absorbed Into/Through
the External Skin
Essential Oil
Common Name
Ballard et al
Satchell et al
Dryden et al
Melli et al
Melissa officinalis
Mentha × piperita
Melaleuca alternifolia
Melaleuca alternifolia
Mentha × piperita
Tea tree
Tea tree
Matiz et al
Kristiniak et al
Hur et al
Ocimum basilicum
Citrus sinensis
Piper nigrum
Sweet orange
Black Pepper
Agitation in dementia
Post-herpetic pain
Athletes foot
MRSA skin colonisation
Preventing nipple
cracks in breast
Ease IV insertion
Menstrual pain
*Clary sage (Salvia sclarea), marjoram (Origanum majoranum), cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum),
ginger (Zingiber officialis), and geranium (Pelargonium graveolens).
TABLE 2-2 Some Human Studies of Essential Oils Absorbed Through
the Internal Skin
Essential Oil/
Jose et al
Melaleuca alternifolia
Tea tree
Soukoulis &
Remberg et al
Khosravi et al
Solsto &
Joksimovic et al
Melaleuca alternifolia
Tea tree
Artemisia abrotanum
Zataria multiflora
Thymol and eugenol
Iranian Thyme
Melaleuca alternifolia
Tea tree
Oropharyngeal candidiasis in AIDS
Allergic rhinitis
Vaginal candidiasis
Bacterial vaginitis
Vaginal candidiasis
estradiol, progesterone, testosterone, fentanyl, and scopolamine) can be administered transdermally on a continuous basis.
Skin Penetration and Permeation
Two processes are involved in topical absorption: penetration and permeation
(Moser et al 2001). Penetration is the actual entry of a substance into and through
the skin. Permeation is the subsequent absorption of the substance into the body.
Obviously the former is more important if the skin is being treated and the latter if a
systemic treatment is sought. The process of penetration and permeation is governed
SECTION I | Overview
by Ficks First Law (Yu et al 2009). The amount of substance that permeates the
skin is related to the a) skin permeability and b) concentration of the substance
(Tisserand & Young 2013; Gabbanini et al 2009). If the essential oil is diluted in a
substance with lower permeability, its absorption will be reduced. In other words,
essential oils diluted in a fixed oil (carrier oil) are absorbed more slowly than undiluted essential oils (Cal 2006). The actual carrier medium can also affect (and to a
certain extent inhibit) the concentration of the active ingredients of essential oils.
For example, (Cross et al 2006) found the terpinen-4-ol absorption from a 20%
solution of tea tree was smaller (1.1 to 1.9%) than from undiluted tea tree (2.4%).
Occlusion will enhance penetration and prevent evaporation (Tisserand & Young
2013). Some essential oil components, such as +limonene, can enhance the absorption of other components like α-pinene and β-myrcene (Schmitt et al 2009).
Topical Absorption of Essential Oils
A search on PubMed using the words “essential oil topical absorption” produced
28 hits in January 2014. Essential oils are lipid soluble and many of the components
can be absorbed through the skin rapidly. As early as 1997, Fuchs et al reported that
carvone, a ketone in essential oils, was found in the bloodstream of a human subject
within 10 minutes of a massage. Carvone was also found in the subject’s urine.
The subject, a 25-year-old woman, wore a mask to avoid inhaling the aroma. Since
then, the dermal penetration and absorption of several essential oils such as lemon
(Valgimigli et al 2012), eucalyptus (Karpanen et al 2010), rose (Schmitt et al 2010),
tea tree (Reichling et al 2006), and juniper (Gavini et al 2005) have been published.
Most essential oil constituents are able to cross the skin barrier (stratum corneum)
to the epidermis (Tisserand & Young 2013). They can be stored in the epidermis for
up to 72 hours, or reach the dermis and from there enter the blood supply. Recent
published studies show how components within essential oils such as citronellol
and geraniol (Gilpin et al 2010), linalool (Lapczynski et al 2008), and terpinen-4-ol
(Cross et al 2006) are absorbed through the skin. A study by Nielsen & Nielsen
(2006) found it was the least lipophilic components (i.e., most water soluble) of
tea tree, such as terpinen-4-ol and a-terpineol, that most easily penetrated the skin.
Bergapten—a component of bergamot (Citrus bergamia)—was found in the blood
4 hours after it had been applied to the skin diluted in jojoba oil (Wang & Tso 2002).
Although the topical use of tea tree over the last 80 years has found only mild
side effects, tea tree can be toxic if taken orally in higher doses (Hammer et al 2006).
This begins to explain the complexity of aromatherapy. Some essential oils are safe
to use on the skin but not to take orally. Some essential oils need to be diluted and
used with caution on the skin but are safe to inhale undiluted. Much depends on
the chemistry of the essential oil. This will be covered in the chemistry chapter. As
topically applied essential oil can affect the absorption of topically applied drugs
including patch therapy, they should be used on separate parts of the body.
Polarity and Optical Activity
The exact time required for absorption depends on the weight of the molecule
and certain physicochemical properties, such as polarity and optical activity
CHAPTER 2 | How Essential Oils Work
(Jager et al 1992). In simple terms, polarity refers to polar molecules, so called
because they have a negative and positive “pole” that attract opposite charges
(Bowles 2000). Optical properties refer to the ability of molecules to rotate in polarized light (Williams 1996). Differences in optical rotation may be the only way to
differentiate between oils from two species that might otherwise be thought to be
the same. For example, in Boswellia carteri and Boswellia sacra, the different optical
rotation values, B. sacra (+30.1°) and B. carterii (−13.3°), demonstrate a significant
difference between oils from the two species (Woolley et al 2012). Optical rotation
can affect absorption. Naturally occurring menthol rotates to the left. That is, it is
levorotatory (l-menthol or –menthol). Synthetic menthol is either racemic (equal
quantities of left and right) or it rotates to the right, dextrorotatory (d-menthol or
+menthol). Polarity and optical activity can affect how chemicals (including essential oil components) are absorbed into the body.
Friction, caused by stroking or massage, encourages dilation of blood vessels in
the dermis and can increase the absorption of essential oil components (Tisserand &
Young 2013). Essential oils are lipid soluble so components within them can gain
access to lipid-rich areas of the body (Buchbauer 1993). This lipid solubility enables
small molecules within essential oils to cross the blood-brain barrier (BBB) (Tisserand & Young 2013). The BBB contains capillary endothelial cells and astrocytes that
prevent many substances in the blood accessing the brain (Brooker 2008). Although
some areas of skin are more accessible, all skin is permeable (some more than others) so it is not necessary to give a full-body treatment. Applying essential oils to the
feet requires no removal of clothes (apart from shoes and socks). Patients’ feet may
be more accessible than hands as they rarely have intravenous infusions attached to
them. Feet are not highly innervated like the face, nor are they areas of low innervation like the back (Weiss 1979).
Damaged Skin
Caution should be taken when applying essential oils to damaged skin, because
damaged skin can be more absorbent and more likely to have adverse reaction
(Chiang et al 2012). Damaged skin includes skin affected by systemic disease, dermatological problems, injury, dehydration caused by a cold, dry environment, or the
daily use of strong detergents. Stress (either physical or emotional) results in vascular shut-down. Psychologic stress also perturbs the epidermal permeability-barrier
homeostasis (Garg et al 2001) suggesting that less essential oil is absorbed during
periods of stress. Dilated blood vessels can increase penetration of essential oils
except when a patient is sweating and the body is trying to lose heat. As skin ages it
becomes thinner, its barrier function becomes diminished and therefore essential
oils are absorbed faster.
Massage or The ‘M’ Technique
In an aromatherapy massage, or the ‘M’ Technique, most of the essential oil evaporates and is inhaled by the patient. Thus, any effect is from a combination of both
the topically applied and the inhaled essential oils. These, plus gentle touch, may
allow the patient to relax and breathe deeply. The amount of essential oil absorbed
SECTION I | Overview
from a full-body massage ranges between 0.01 and 0.15 mL (Tisserand & Young
2013). Topical absorption can be enhanced with an occlusive dressing. Lapczynski
et al (2008) found that topical absorption of linalool increased three times when
the skin was occluded. Covering the skin also increases its temperature, protects
hydration and avoids evaporation. Topical application of essential oils has several
advantages: the oils do not need to be digested, are simple to use, and are excreted
slowly. This is the most direct way to treat skin problems, or muscle complaints.
There are a few disadvantages. Some essential oils (those containing phenols) can
be epidermal irritants. Some may cause sensitivity, or cross-sensitivity to cosmetics
or perfumes (Tisserand & Young 2013). and some (those containing furocoumarins) may cause photosensitivity.
Epidermal absorption is an expanding new field and the use of essential oils
to enhance or accelerate conventional drug absorption is increasing. Some drug
companies are researching essential oils to enhance and/or to accelerate dermal
absorption (Fang et al 2004). Other drug companies are researching how solid lipid
microparticles (SLPs) can enhance dermal delivery of essential oils (Gavini et al
2005). Finally, many aromatic plants are grown with pesticides. Although gas chromatography might identify this, pesticides can also cause a reaction that has nothing
to do with the essential oil. Expressed essential oils from citrus plants are most likely
to have high levels of pesticides, so always use organic citrus peel oils.
Topical application of essential oils can be used for the following:
Relieving localized trauma such as bruising, sprains, stings, or burns
Relaxing and warming specific muscles
Cooling specific areas
Relieving neuralgic conditions
As an antiinflammatory
As an antispasmodic
As antiviral, antifungal, or antibacterial agents for skin infections
As a general body relaxant
Topical applications can be given in:
Carrier oil (cold-pressed vegetable oil)
Undiluted in certain circumstances
Bath (sitz, hand, foot, or full)
Wound irrigation
The amount of an essential oil absorbed through the skin depends (not in any
specific order) on the following:
Dilution used
Volume applied
Amount of skin surface covered
Chemistry of essential oil
Choice of carrier (lotion, oil, gel, cream, alcohol, water)
CHAPTER 2 | How Essential Oils Work
Part of the body used
Temperature of the skin
Integrity of the skin
Heat of the environment
Age of the skin
Inhaling essential oils is the fastest method of getting essential oils into the body.
It may also be the oldest method. The word perfume is derived from the Latin
fume meaning “to smoke.” Perfume, spread by heat and smoke, was used in ancient
rituals (Watson 2000). When we inhale essential oils, components can travel to the
lungs, the brain, or both. Inhalation may be the oldest method of drug use, but it is
also being rediscovered by the pharmaceutical industry. One of the latest drugs to
be used via olfaction is insulin (Heinemann 2011).
Absorption to the Lungs
The nose has two distinct functions: to warm and filter incoming air and to act
as the first part of the olfactory system (Brooker 2008). The lungs have a huge
surface area that is intimately connected to the blood system via the alveoli.
(Jori et al 1969) found inhaled 1,8-cineole (an oxide also known as eucalyptol
found in many species of eucalyptus and several other essential oils) had a measurable effect on the lungs at very low concentrations. Inhaled 1,8-cineole is an
effective antitussive (Takaishi et al 2012) and expectorant (Begrow 2012). Inhaled
essential oils can be used to treat fungal, bacterial, and viral bronchial infections
in situ (Ben-Ayre et al 2010).
Absorption to the Brain
Odors can affect our brains by influencing the production of endorphins and noradrenaline. Each species has an olfactory repertoire unique to the genetic makeup
of that species (Hoover 2010). Olfaction is one of the most primal senses in the
mammalian brain (Arisi et al 2012). The olfactory receptor gene family is the largest
in the mammalian genome comprising 1% of all genes (Hoover 2010). Olfactory
dysfunction has been pathologically linked to depression, neurodegenerative disorders
and obesity (Hoover 2010) and sexual malfunction (Croy et al 2013).
Smell is a chemical reaction; receptors in the brain respond to chemicals
(odor molecules) within the essential oil. As a person breathes in, these odor
molecules move up behind the bridge of the nose and attach to the cilia of olfactory sensory receptor neurons within the olfactory epithelium (Figure 2-2 and
Table 2-3). The olfactory epithelium sends axons through the olfactory nerve
to the olfactory bulb (Arisi et al 2012). The olfactory bulb connects to brain
structures such as the piriform cortex, amygdala, entorhinal cortex, striatum
and hippocampus. These structures play an important part in odor recognition,
social interaction, sexual behavior, emotional responses, learning, and memory
(Arisi et al 2012).
SECTION I | Overview
Frontal sinus
Olfactory bulb
Sphenoidal sinus
Nasal septum
area (rich in
blood vessels)
Olfactory tract
Frontal lobe of brain
Olfactory nerve fibre
Olfactory bulb
Olfactory bulb
plate of
Olfactory nerves
Section through cribriform
plate of ethmoid bone
Olfactory hairs
being smelled
FIGURE 2-2 | How essential oils are absorbed through the nose.
Olfactory receptors are extremely sensitive and can be stimulated by very subtle
(and sometimes subliminal) scents (Hummel et al 2013). Different odors bind to
distinct arrays of receptors. This allows people to discriminate between more than
10,000 odors, even though there are only about 1000 odor receptors. Neurons in
the olfactory epithelium are being constantly replaced (Nickell et al 2012) so it is
surprising that olfactory receptors can become easily fatigued when odors seem less
obvious. Air flows through the nostrils at different rates because of turbinate swelling (Sobel et al 2000). Every few hours, the nostril, taking in more air, switches
to the other one. Odors breathed through the left or right nostril may have different effects because the nasal cavities and olfactory pathways up to the level of
CHAPTER 2 | How Essential Oils Work
TABLE 2-3 Some Human Studies of Essential Oils Absorbed Through the Nose
Essential Oil
Common Name
Norris & Dwyer
Kritsidima et al
Daytime sleepiness
Dental anxiety
Toda & Morimoto
Salivary stress markers
Komori et al
Stringer & Donald
Jimbo et al
Drug addiction
NIRS brain blood flow
Hunt et al
Varney & Buckle
Cordell & Buckle
Mentha piperita
Mentha piperita
Citrus limon
Santalum album
Piper nigrum
Black pepper
Post op nausea
Nicotine withdrawal
*Sandalwood (Santalum album), juniper (Juniperus communis), rose (Rosa damascena), and orris root.
†Aniseed (Pimpinella anisum), fennel (Foeniculum vulgare var dulce), Roman chamomile (Anthemis nobilis), peppermint (Mentha piperita).
NIRS, Near infrared spectroscopy.
the anterior commissure are completely separate. In one study, 17 out of 20 participants identified l-carvone differently, depending on which nostril was dominant
(Walter et al 1964). Interestingly, sharks work out the direction of their prey by
inter-nostril differences in odorant time of arrival (Arzi & Sobel 2010).
The Limbic System
The limbic system (LS) is the oldest part of the human brain, supposedly having
evolved first, and is vital for normal human functioning. In lower vertebrates it is
called the smell brain, because these animals depend on their sense of smell for survival. The LS is a complex inner ring of brain structures below the cerebral cortex,
arranged into 53 regions and 35 associated tracts (Watts 1975). The main structures
in the LS are the amygdala, hippocampus, anterior thalamus, and hypothalamus
(Brooker 2008). As early as 1923, Gatti and Cajola noted that odors produced an
immediate effect on respiration, pulse, and blood pressure, and concluded that
odors had a profound effect on the central nervous system. Aromas have instant
psychologic and physiologic effects (Hinton 2004), and sometimes just thinking
about a smell can be as powerful as actually smelling it (Betts 1996). The amygdala
and hippocampus are two of the most important parts of the limbic system associated
with smell.
SECTION I | Overview
The Amygdala
The amygdala is an almond-shaped group of subcortical nuclei located under
the surface of the front medial portion of the temporal lobe (Brooker 2008). It is
thought to play a pivotal role in processing emotion, the formation of emotional
memory and emotional response (Arisi 2012). In mammals, γ-aminobutyric acid
(GABA) transmission in the amygdala is particularly important for controlling levels of fear and anxiety (Heldt et al 2012). People with obsessive compulsive disorder
(OCD) have altered amygdala function, as shown by functional magnetic resonance
imaging (fMRI) (Via et al 2014). The amygdala also plays an important role in controlling aggression (Pawliczek et al 2013). Some odors can arouse emotion (Kadohisa
2013). Inhaled lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) had a calming effect on the amygdala of rats, similar to chlordiazepoxide—a benzodiazepine, but weaker and more
restricted (Shaw et al 2011).
The Hippocampus
The hippocampus is associated with learning and memory (Arisi 2012). There are
three types of memory: semantic (facts and concepts), episodic (recollection of
events), and spatial (recognition). The hippocampus is thought to be the storage
area for new experiences before they become permanent memories stored in the
cerebral cortex. The hippocampus is particularly vulnerable to ischemia, Alzheimer’s
disease, and epilepsy (Hatanpaa et al 2014). A stroke can affect memory, but only if
it causes bilateral damage to the hippocampus. Some odors can help recall memories
(Kadohisa 2013).
Smell and Brain Imaging
The effect of odors on the brain has been “mapped” using fMRI (Yousem et al
2013). This study found different responses to aromas between male and female
subjects. fMRI has also shown that odors have an effect on the brain even if the
person is anosmic or has congenital hyposmia, no or reduced ability to smell and
detect odors, respectively (Henkin & Levy 2002). Odors can also have an effect even
if they are subliminal (Hummel et al 2013; Lorig 2012). In earlier research Lorig
et al (1990) first mapped the positive mood change effects of subliminal vanilla
using EEG. Henkin & Levy (2001) later mapped the effect of imagined smell—in
this case peppermint and banana—using fast low angle shot fMRI. Phantom smell
(phantosmia) can also be revealed using fMRI (Henkin et al 2000).
Pheromones are subliminal odors that are detected by the vomeronasal organ
(VNSO). The VNSO is connected through the vomeronasal nerve to the accessory olfactory bulb (AOB), from where information is sent mainly to amygdala
(Arisi 2012). However, there is sufficient evidence that the olfactory epithelium can
also respond to pheromones (Wysocki & Preti 2004; Hagino-Yamagishi 2008). This
means the perception and interpretation of pheromones is far more complex than
previously was thought because “second-messenger pathways” and neural circuits
CHAPTER 2 | How Essential Oils Work
are used by each receptor family for pheromone perception (Hagino-Yamagishi
2008). Further research suggests male pheromones could play an important role in
female reproductive success (Mak et al 2007).
1) Inhalation
Inhalation can be direct (to a single patient) or indirect (to a room of people).
Direct Inhalation
No Steam using aromasticks, aromapatches, aromapackets,
cotton balls, aroma ribbons
Aromasticks. Drop four drops carrier oil (jojoba or grapeseed) to top, bottom
and each side of wick to lock aroma.
Drop 15 to 20 drops essential oil onto wick and insert wick into inhaler.
Press flat plastic disc to seal and push firmly into place.
Screw cap to secure inhaler for storage.
Label contents with a small adhesive sticker.
To use, unscrew and remove cover. Place top of inhaler just inside one nostril
(blocking the other one) and inhale for sinus, nausea, insomnia problems etc.
Repeat in other nostril. Alternatively, place in the mouth and inhale for sore throat
and nicotine withdrawal. Use as needed. Replace cover when not in use. See the
appendix for recommended suppliers.
Aromapatches. These can be purchased blank so specific essential oil/s can be
added. Or the patch can contain proprietary single essential oils or mixtures. Apply
to skin of patient, preferably to collar bone so essential oils can evaporate upwards.
See the appendix for recommended suppliers.
Aromapackets. These can be purchased complete with tested mixtures for symptoms such as nausea, insomnia, curbing appetite, helping concentration. Open
packet and breathe in several times holding small opening to nostrils. Close packet.
See the appendix for recommended suppliers.
Cotton balls. Add one to five drops of essential oil/s to a cotton ball and inhale
for 5 to 10 minutes. Repeat as necessary.
Aroma ribbons. This can be attached to the bedclothes of children or adults for
an easily applied sleeping or comfort aroma. Cut off a 1-inch piece of ribbon and
attach it to the mattress or pillow with a diaper pin. Caution: Ensure that the pin is
secure and that a child cannot put the ribbon in his or her mouth.
Direct Inhalation with Steam
Add one to five drops of essential oil to a bowl of steaming water. Place a towel over
the patient’s head and ask him/her to inhale for 10 minutes. Remember to ask the
patient to close his/her eyes and remove spectacles. Remove contact lenses before
Caution: Avoid this procedure with the elderly, confused, very young, or infirm.
SECTION I | Overview
Indirect Inhalation
1) Room Fresheners
Add one to five drops of essential oil to a bowl of hot water and place in a safe
space. The warmth of the water gradually allows the essential oils to evaporate
with the water. This is excellent in air-conditioned facilities where the atmosphere
may be dry.
2) Burners
Burners usually have a small candle that heats a container suspended above. Fill
container with water and float one to five drops of essential oil on top. The water
stops the essential oil from burning and leaving a yellow, sticky residue. Caution:
Keep away from children and pets.
3) Fans
Fans can be battery or electrically operated and come with a number of small,
absorbent pads. Add one to five drops to the pad, place in the fan, and switch on.
Inexpensive spare pads can be made by cutting incontinence pads or pantyliners
into the correct small, square size.
4) Humidifiers
Humidifiers can be purchased in most drug stores. Fill the container with water.
Place essential oils on a tissue and put the tissue in the direct pathway of the exiting steam. Do not float the essential oil on top of the water inside the humidifier
because it will not come out with the steam, but will remain floating on the water.
This is an excellent method for treating croup and asthma.
5) Diffusers
Diffusers are electric and some of the best are ultrasonic. They do not heat the
essential oils and deliver micron-sized essential oil droplets. Please see the appendix
for recommended supplier.
6) Nebulizers
Nebulizers are electrical units with small, glass attachments into which drops of
undiluted essential oil are placed. Most nebulizers use no heat. They can be fragile and noisy. Avoid with thick, viscous essential oils like vetiver. Caution: Avoid
overdosing with essential oils.
7) Spritzer Sprays (essential oils in water)
Spritzers are excellent for hot flashes or fatigue. Keep one in the fridge! Caution:
Remember to shake before you use and avoid spraying on plants.
8) Aromastones
Aromastones are small ceramic holders (with an electric plug) that gently warm
essential oil.
CHAPTER 2 | How Essential Oils Work
Inhaled Essential Oils Can Be Used For:
Upper and lower respiratory tract infections
Hay fever, sinusitis
Prevention of cross-infection
Depression, fatigue, nausea
Nicotine or drug withdrawal
Posttraumatic stress
2) Internal
The internal skin route (using the inner skin of the mouth, throat, rectum, or vagina)
is an extension of the external skin route and is very relevant to nursing or medical
care. Mouthwashes, gargles, vaginal douches, creams, pessaries, and suppositories
are excellent methods of getting essential oils directly to the problem area.
Mouthwashes and Gargles
Lister discovered thymol, a component found in essential oils, and a famous mouthwash was named after him—Listerine. Listerine contains several essential oil components: thymol, menthol, and eucalyptol. Mouthwashes and/or gargles containing
essential oils or their components are excellent for dental issues (Sharma et al 2010),
mouth or throat infections (Erriu et al 2013), gingivitis (Soukoulis & Hirsch 2004) or
to help reduce radiation-induced oral mucositis (Buckingham 2010), (MaddocksJennings et al 2009). Gargles containing essential oils can also be very effective in
treating oropharyngeal candidiasis in AIDS (Jose & Ahmad 2002), or a simple sore
throat. For the latter, add three drops of an essential oil such as palma rosa (Cymbopogon citratus) in 15 mL of warm water for a soothing gargle that will also help to
fight the infection. Repeat every 4 hours throughout the day for 3 days.
Vaginal Douches, Creams, and Tampons
Although the positive or negative effects of douching for “vaginal cleanliness” are
debatable (Shaaban et al 2013), (Chu et al 2013), when there is a vaginal infection,
such as Candida albicans, essential oils can be effective in a vaginal douche (Solsto
et al 2011) or in a cream (Khosravi 2008). A tampon with three to five drops of tea
tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) in 5 mL of carrier oil is superb against many recurrent
(and resistant) vaginal infections. Repeat every 4 hours during the day (and replace
every 8 hours at night) for 3 days (I have never known it to fail). Vaginal routes have
a distinct advantage in the treatment of gynecological or urinary conditions because
the essential oils are absorbed directly into the surrounding tissue.
Rectal Suppositories
Essential oils can be successfully used in rectal pessaries to treat infection and/or
inflammation. Rectal suppositories have been used successfully to treat bronchitis
SECTION I | Overview
(Bardoux 2007) and an ointment applied rectally that contained tea tree was effective
against hemorrhoids in a double-blind, randomized study (Joksimovic et al 2012).
The usual concentrations are 10% essential oil per suppository—approximately
300 mg of essential oil per 3-g suppository. For children, use one drop of essential
oil per 25-mg suppository. Cocoa butter is a good medium. Melt the cocoa butter,
mix in essential oils, fill the suppository mold and store in refrigerator. Avoid using
phenol-rich essential oils.
3) Oral
There is a long history of essential oils being given to patients orally by doctors and
nurses before the advent of modern pharmaceuticals. Several essential oils such as
cinnamon, clove, peppermint, sandalwood, and eucalyptus are actually listed in the
1930 (8th edition) of Useful Drugs, published by the American Medical Association. Sandalwood was classically given for urinary infections. The oral route is an
excellent one for treating gastrointestinal problems (Cappello et al 2007), (May et al
2000) or infections (Force 2000). Studies indicate it can also be useful for insomnia
(Jahangir et al 2009) and anxiety (Kasper et al 2010). The oral route is perfectly safe
and nontoxic provided the giver is trained appropriately and dosages are carefully
measured. Not all essential oils are safe to use orally. Burfield (2000) and Tisserand
& Young (2013) caution that certain essential oils such as hyssop, wormwood,
and wintergreen should never be used orally. Essential oils that are high in phenols
should be diluted and contained in gelatin capsules to avoid mucous irritation
when administered orally. Others can be diluted in vegetable oil or aqueous alcohol
(Tisserand & Young 2013). Essential oil components such as 1,8-cineole have also
been used successfully by the oral route—in this instance for acute nonpurulent
rhinosinusitis (Kehrl et al 2004).
Most insurance companies that cover aromatherapy do not include the oral use
of essential oils. The Royal College of Nursing in UK accepts all other methods of
aromatherapy as part of nursing care, apart from the oral use. Most State Boards
of Nursing (BONs) in the United States now accept aromatherapy in nursing care
but no state has yet accepted the oral route. In fact the Massachusetts BON 2012
revised Advisory Ruling on Nursing Practice to list aromatherapy and essential oils
separately (2014). The fear of using essential oils orally is based on three things: a) a
lack of knowledge, b) fear of poisoning and c) fear of litigation because the oral use
of essential oils is perceived in many countries to be practicing medicine without a
license. Clearly, education is vital. Tisserand & Young (2013) write “Medical practitioners who favor the oral route are frequently treating infectious diseases that
require heavy dosing…. therefore only practitioners who are qualified to diagnose,
trained to weigh risks against benefits and have knowledge of essential oil pharmacology should prescribe essential oils for oral administration.” I agree.
As essential oils are very concentrated, doses are usually described in the
number of drops given. However, drop sizes vary so it is safer to measure in
milliliters. The recommended dose per 24 hours is 0.05 to 1.3 mL (Tisserand &
Young 2013).
CHAPTER 2 | How Essential Oils Work
Method of Oral Use
Essential oils can be given orally in gelatin capsules, disper, or on vitamin C tablets
(Table 2-4). Some essential oils can be taken in honey for occasional use—one drop
of palma rosa in a teaspoon of honey can be excellent for a sore throat. Repeat every
2 hours for 1 day.
Gelatin Capsules
Size 00 capsules are filled with 20% essential oil(s) diluted in vegetable oil and
poured into the capsules. Each capsule holds approximately 0.75 mL.
Disper is a lecithin-based emulsifier that holds the essential oils in a stable dispersion and is rapidly absorbed by the stomach. Mix 10 drops (or parts) of Disper
to each drop (or part) of essential oil used, then add water to create a milky
Essential oils can be blended with honey water. Mix the drops of essential oil in a
teaspoon of honey, add warm water, and drink. Rose is an excellent antiviral oil to
use in this way.
Enteric-Coated Gelatin Capsules
Enteric-coated gelatin capsules do not release the essential oil until they are in the
small intestine (an environment of pH 6.8 or higher). This can be useful for irritable
bowel syndrome (IBS) (Cappello et al 2007).
Human Studies on Oral Use
Pediatric physicians in the United States (Kline et al 2001) used enteric-coated
capsules containing peppermint oil to treat IBS. Fifty children took part in a
randomized, double-blind, controlled 2-week study. One or two capsules (each
TABLE 2-4 Some Human Studies of Essential Oils Given Orally
Essential Oil/Component
Common Name
Force et al
Kehrl et al
Oreganum vulgare
Cappello et al
Jahangir et al
Kasper et al
TayaraniNajaran et al
Mentha piperita
Rosa damascena
Lavandula angustifolia
Mentha spicata
Mentha × piperita
Enteric parasite
Acute nonpurulent
IBS, Irritable bowel syndrome.
SECTION I | Overview
containing 187 mg) were given three times daily. The peppermint group showed
a greater reduction in symptoms compared to the placebo group. No side effects
were reported.
An Iranian medical study (Tayarani-Najaran 2013) explored the oral use of
peppermint and spearmint for chemo-induced nausea. The four-arm study (peppermint, spearmint, control, and placebo) had 50 patients in each group. The
aromatherapy groups received capsules containing either two drops of spearmint
(Mentha spicata) or two drops of peppermint (Mentha piperita) oil and filled with
sugar, every 4 hours. The capsules were given 30 minutes before chemotherapy
treatment and then 4 and 8 hours later. There was a significant reduction in nausea
for both the spearmint and the peppermint groups (p < 0.05) compared with control and placebo groups. No adverse effects were reported.
An Italian medical team (Cappello et al 2007) randomly allocated 57 patients
with IBS to receive either enteric-coated peppermint oil (Mentha piperita) or placebo twice a day for 4 weeks. Symptoms measured included abdominal bloating,
abdominal pain or discomfort, diarrhea, or constipation. Results showed 75%
patients in the peppermint oil group had >50% reduction of symptoms compared
to 38% in the placebo group (p < 0.009).
Belaiche (1985), a French physician, conducted a randomized, double-blind
study to examine the effectiveness of Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) on 26 participants with chronic cystitis. The experimental group was given 24 mg of tea tree
(3 × 8 mg in enteric-coated gelatin capsule). The control group was given a placebo
that had the odor of tea tree. After 6 months, 60% of the aromatherapy group were
completely cured. No one in the control group showed any improvement. There
were no side effects to the treatment and liver function tests were normal. I hope
this study will be replicated soon.
Finally, the trigeminal system also plays a role in the sensation of odors (Ishimaru
et al 2011). The head-swiveling reflex, away from aggressive odors such as acetic
acid and ammonia, is part of the trigeminal system and forms part of the fifth cranial
nerve (Van Toller & Dodd 1991).
Essential oils are excreted through the kidney, lungs and skin (Tisserand & Young
2013) (Figure 2-3). Following oral administration, essential oil components are
mainly excreted in the urine. However, components may also be excreted in the
exhaled breath or in the feces. If the essential oil is inhaled, excretion is less likely to
be through the urine. There is limited information about excretion of essential oils
in humans. However, there are several studies on essential oil components found in
the blood after topical application. Jager et al (1992) measured linalool and linalyl
acetate. Wang & Tso (2002) measured 5-methoxypsoralen (bergapten). Nielsen &
Nielsen (2006) measured γ-terpinene. Cross et al (2008) measured terpinen-4-ol.
Lapczynski et al (2008) measured linalool. Gilpin et al (2010) measured citronellol
and geraniol.
CHAPTER 2 | How Essential Oils Work
Small intestine
Transporting system
Hormone release
Tissues and
organs of the body
(exhaled air)
and sebum)
FIGURE 2-3 | How essential oils are absorbed and excreted. (From Clarke S. Essential
Chemistry for Safe Aromatherapy. Churchill Livingstone. 2002.)
Thrall (2000) analyzed exhaled breath using an ion-trap mass spectrometer following dermal application of volatile chemicals (not essential oils).
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SECTION I | Overview
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CHAPTER 2 | How Essential Oils Work
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SECTION I | Overview
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CHAPTER 2 | How Essential Oils Work
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Basic Plant Taxonomy, Basic
Essential Oil Chemistry, Extraction,
Biosynthesis, and Analysis
“A weed is a flower in the wrong place, a flower is a weed in the right place, if you
were a weed in the right place you would be a flower; but seeing as you’re a weed in
the wrong place you’re only a weed—it’s high time someone pulled you out.”
Ian Emberson
TABLE 3-10
TABLE 3-11
TABLE 3-12
TABLE 3-13
TABLE 3-14
TABLE 3-15
TABLE 3-16
TABLE 3-17
TABLE 3-18
TABLE 3-19
TABLE 3-20
Lavenders and Some of Their Properties, 39
Chamomiles and Some of Their Properties, 40
Some Examples of Essential Oil Chemotypes, 41
Structure of Terpenes, 44
Isoprene Units in Terpenes, 44
Some Monoterpenes and Their Properties, 45
Some Sesquiterpenes and Their Properties, 46
Some Monoterpenols and Their Properties, 47
Some Sesquiterpenols and Their Properties, 48
Some Phenols and Their Properties, 49
An Ether and Its Properties, 50
Some Aldehydes and Their Properties, 51
Some Esters and Their Properties, 52
A Ketone and Its Properties, 53
An Oxide and Its Properties, 54
Lactones and Their Properties, 54
Structural Similarities between Coumarin and Warfarin, 55
Advantages and Disadvantages of Various Extraction Processes, 61
Parts of Plant Where Essential Oils Are Stored, 67
Secretory Parts of Plants, 67
SECTION I | Overview
BOX 3-1 | Factors Affecting Quality of Essential Oil, 69
Benzene rings (aromatic ring), 43
Essential oils versus extracts, 60
Steam distillation, 62
Biosynthesis, 66
Learning how and why a plant manufactures an essential oil is relevant to understanding aromatherapy. The way plants make essential oils gives some insight into
their complexity. Traditionally, biochemists have studied primary metabolism and
organic chemists have studied secondary metabolism. In aromatherapy, it is useful to have an overall picture of both metabolic processes. Why some plants make
essential oils is the subject of ongoing scientific debate and is relevant to the therapeutic potential of using essential oils in healthcare.
The process of extraction clarifies the need for unadulterated essential oils.
Unadulterated essential oils are required for clinical use to prevent possible side
effects from solvents or residues. The process of steam distillation or expression
produces an essential oil with no residue. CO2 extraction (supercritical carbon
dioxide) does not produce a residue but it does produce a different extract. Steamdistilled German chamomile (Matricaria recutita) is dark blue due to the high
content of chamazulene. CO2 extract is green—no chamazulene.
The Latin names of plants can seem a bit intimidating initially, but they are the
best way of being sure you have the correct essential oil. Carl Linnaeus (1707–1778)
established the basis for naming plants in Latin (Stearn 1998). Today, botanical
(Latin) names are recognized globally by gardeners, botanists, herbalists, and aromatherapists. A plant may have many common names, but it only has one Latin name
and the common names may mean completely different plants. For example, in aromatherapy, bergamot means the essential oil extracted from the peel of the citrus fruit
Citrus bergamia. To a gardener, bergamot means the plant Monarda didyma. In aromatherapy, geranium means Pelargonium “Graveolens” [the plant cultivated today is
actually a cultivar group involving hybrids of P. capitatum, P. radens, and P. graveolens
(Tucker 2014)]. To a gardener, geranium means the plant Pelargonium sp., although a
medicinal plant person might assume geranium means Geranium maculatum.
Plant taxonomy, by its simplest definition, includes (1) naming and describing,
(2) identifying, and (3) classifying of plants. The botanical name for each plant is
composed of two words. The first word is the name of the genus. The second word
is the name of the species. All plants can be grouped into categories. For plants to
be properly identified they are divided into division, class, order, family, genus, and
species. This process takes into account the number, shape and position of leaves on
the stem; the shape and position of the flowers; the number and shape of the petals;
whether the plant is hairy, prickly, or smooth; whether the stem is ridged; and so on.
CHAPTER 3 | Basic Plant Taxonomy, Basic Essential Oil Chemistry
Lavender belongs to a plant family called Lamiaceae (previously Labiatae): the mint
family. This family includes many species and some are used in aromatherapy.
Plants in this family usually have five united petals with two lobes on the top and
three on the bottom forming lips (labia). The leaves are usually directly opposite
each other on the stem and often the stem is square. The Latin name for the lavender genus is Lavandula, so all lavenders begin with Lavandula. (See Table 3-1.) Two
of the most commonly used “lavenders” are Lavandula angustifolia and Lavandula
Lavandula angustifolia is sometimes called L. vera or L. officinalis, although the
correct name is L. angustifolia (Lawrence 1989). This plant also has several common
names: English lavender, French lavender, and true lavender.
Lavandula latifolia is sometimes called L. spica, and its common name is spike
lavender or spike. Spike is completely different from spikenard (Nardostachys jatamansi), which is closely related to valerian and belongs to the family Valerianaceae.
Lavandula angustifolia and Lavandula latifolia were both listed in the British
Pharmacopoeia and supplied to hospitals in vats labeled simply “lavender.” However, the two plants have very different therapeutic properties. L. angustifolia is a
sedative, relaxant, and hypotensor. L. latifolia is a stimulant and expectorant.
Another commonly used “lavender” is Lavandula × intermedia (older synonym L. hybrida). This is a naturally occurring hybrid that was first observed in
1828 (Tucker 2014). Today, Lavandula × intermedia tends to be a manufactured
cultivar with a trade name Lavandin. It is a cross (hence the multiplication sign
between the genus and the species) between two Lavandula species: L. angustifolia
and L. latifolia. Because Lavandin belongs to the Lavandula genus, it can legitimately be called a “lavender.” This can cause confusion when people think they
have true lavender (L. angustifolia) when in fact they have Lavandin. There is a
third less-commonly used species of lavender, L. stoechas, that can also be used
TABLE 3-1 Lavenders and Some of Their Properties
Latin Name
Common Name
Lavandula angustifolia
Lavandula vera
Lavandula officinalis
Lavandula latifolia
Lavandula spica
Lavandula stoechas
True lavender
Calming, sedative, good for burns,
analgesic, antibacterial, immunesystem enhancer
Expectorant, mucolytic, possible
Useful against Pseudomonas spp.,
high in ketones
Spike lavender
SECTION I | Overview
Chamomile can also cause confusion initially. There are three main types of chamomile
used in aromatherapy: German, Roman, and Moroccan (Table 3-2). They are quite
different and produce different-colored essential oils that have different properties, but
they all belong to the same family: Asteraceae or Compositae—the daisy family.
German chamomile (Matricaria recutita) is a smoky smelling, dark-blue oil that
contains chamazulene. The oil’s color is related to the amount of chamazulene present
and the method of extraction. Chamazulene is not present in the fresh flower (or in its
CO2 extract) but is produced during distillation (Lawless 1992). It is possible to obtain
a green or yellow German chamomile oil that has less than 3% chamazulene, but the
dark-blue variety always has more than 7%. The price of German chamomile oil is usually related to the amount of chamazulene it contains. Chamazulene is an antiinflammatory with a history of use in the treatment of skin problems (Jakovlev et al 1983),
(Ramadan et al 2006). German chamomile also contains a second antiinflammatory
compound called (−)-alpha-bisabolol that is a sesquiterpene alcohol (Alves Ade et al
2010). In addition, this species has antibacterial properties (Salehi et al 2005) and is
effective against Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus, and Candida albicans (Khezri et al
2013). CO2-extracted German chamomile is dark green, or brownish green, and semisolid at room temperature. It smells of sweet apples with an earthy undertone.
Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile or Anthemis nobilis) is commonly
known as English chamomile or garden chamomile, is colorless to pale blue that
turns yellow with storage. Listed in the British Herbal Pharmacopoeia, it contains
up to 80% esters. Esters have antispasmodic properties, and essential oil of Roman
chamomile is traditionally used topically as an antispasmodic and inhaled as a relaxant, while the herbal extract is used as a carminative. Roman chamomile also has
mild antiinflammatory properties (Franchomme & Penoel 1990). Recent research
suggests it may have antitumoral properties (Guimaraes et al 2013).
Moroccan chamomile (Ormenis multicaulis or O. mixta) is a relative newcomer
to the aromatherapy world. The main component in the essential oil is santolina alcohol (Zrira et al 2007). It does not contain chamazulene. However, it does have some
antibacterial properties (Darriet et al 2012). Adding further confusion is Chamomile Blue Tansy—Tanacetum annum. This is not a true chamomile—its genus is not
Chamaemelum or Ormenis—but it is blue and it does contain chamazulene.
TABLE 3-2 Chamomiles and Some of Their Properties
Latin Name
Common Name
Matricaria recutita
German chamomile
Chamaemelum nobile
Roman chamomile
Ormenis mixta
Moroccan chamomile
Dark blue, useful for skin
complaints and inflammation
Pale blue or yellow, sedative, useful
for spasms
Mainly used by perfume industry,
some antibacterial activity
CHAPTER 3 | Basic Plant Taxonomy, Basic Essential Oil Chemistry
Different Essential Oils from Different Parts of the Plant
Occasionally, different parts of the same plant can produce different essential oils.
In the case of the bitter orange plant (Citrus × aurantium var. amara), three different types of essential oils can be obtained: petitgrain from the stems and leaves,
neroli from the petals, and bitter orange from the fruit. Neroli-like and petitgrainlike essential oils can be obtained from the petals and leaves of other citrus species.
Bergamot essential oil is obtained from the rind of a fruit that is a subspecies of the
bittersweet orange. The shorthand for Citrus aurantium var. bergamia (bergamot)
is Citrus bergamia (Guenther 1976).
Sometimes just the part of the plant is listed (e.g., cinnamon bark or cinnamon
leaf). Cinnamon bark contains approximately 50% eugenol (a phenol). Cinnamon
leaf contains 80 to 96% eugenol. Eugenol is strongly antimicrobial (Kamatou et al
2012). However, it can cause sensitization (Svedman et al 2012) and if used in high
concentrations can burn the skin. It can also dissolve metal, false teeth, and pearls
(Ryman 1991). Cinnamon bark and cinnamon leaf are used by the fragrance and
pharmaceutical industries in very low dilutions.
Clones and Chemotypes
To complicate the situation a bit more, some plants have clones or cultivars. These
will have different chemistries (Table 3-3). Clones or cultivars are manufactured
and the essential oil has a specific chemical profile. This might make it more suitable for treating a particular ailment, or make it safer to use. Common thyme (Thymus vulgaris) has several chemotypes: linalol, geraniol, α-terpineol, thujanol-4,
carvacrol, and thymol (Vernet & Gouyon 1976). The first four are all safe to use on
the skin, because they are high in alcohols. However, thymol and carvacrol are phenols and can cause skin irritation. There are four different chemotypes of Lavandin
(Lavandula × intermedia or Lavandula hybrida)—each with a different chemistry.
Tea tree, eucalyptus, rosemary, and German chamomile are other essential oils that
TABLE 3-3 Some Examples of Essential Oil Chemotypes
Latin Name
Chemical Constituents
Research Paper
Achillea millefolium
Caryophyllene, farnesene,
Methyl chavicol, sabinene
Linalool, methyl chavicol,
Bisabolone oxide, bisabolol,
chamazulene, chamazulenefree
α- and β-thujone, cineole,
Hethelyi et al 1988
Oswiecimska 1974
Tucker and Maciarello 1987
Sobti et al 1978
Artemesia dracunculus
Ocimum basilicum
Matricaria recutita
Salvia officinalis
Frantz 1993
Tucker and Maciarello 1990
SECTION I | Overview
have commercial chemotypes. Chemotypes will become more common as aromatic
plants are grown for the pharmaceutical or food industry.
Alves Ade M, Goncalves J, Cruz J, Araujo D. 2010. Evaluation of the sesquiterpene (−)-alpha-bisabolol
as a novel peripheral nervous blocker. Neurosci Lett. 12;472(1):11-5.
Darriet F, Bendahou M, Costa J, Muselli A. 2012. Chemical compositions of the essential oils of the aerial
parts of Chamaemelum mixtum. J Agriculture Food Chem. 60(6):1494-502.
Franchomme P, Penoel D. 1990. Aromatherapie Exactement. Limoges, France: Jollois.
Frantz C. 1993. Genetics. In Hay R, Waterman P (eds). Volatile Oil Crops: Their Biology, Biochemistry
and Production. Longman Scientific & Technical. Essex, UK. 63-96.
Guenther E. 1976. The Essential Oils, Vol. III. Malaber, FL: Krieger.
Guimaraes R, Barros L, Duenas M, Calhelha R, Calvalho A et al. 2013. Nutrients, phytochemicals and
bioactivity of wild Roman chamomile: a comparison between the herb and its preparations. Food
Chem. 15;136(2):718-25.
Hethelyi E, Danos B, Tetenyi P. 1988. Investigation of the essential oils of the Achillea genus. 1. The essential oils composition of Achillea distans. Herba Hungarica. 27:35-42.
Jakovlev V, Isaac C, Flaskamp E. 1983. Pharmacological investigations with compounds of chamomile. VI.
Investigations on the antiphlogistic effects of chamazulene and matricin. Planta Medica. 49(2) 67-73.
Kamatou G, Vermaak I, Viljoen A. 2012. Eugenol—From the Remote Maluku Islands to the International Market Place: A Review of a Remarkable and Versatile Molecule. Molecules, 17, 6953-6981.
doi:10.3390/molecules17066953. Accessed Jan 24, 2014.
Khezri H, Gorji M, Morad A, Gorji H. 2013. Comparison of the antibacterial effects of matrica & PersicaTM
and chlorhexidine gluconate mouthwashes in mechanically ventilated ICU patients: a double blind
randomized clinical trial. Rev Chil Infectol. 30(4). http://dx.doi:10.4067/S0716-10182013000400003.
Accessed Jan 22, 2014.
Lawless J. 1992. Encyclopedia of Essential Oils. Shaftesbury, UK: Element Books.
Lawrence B. 1989. Essential Oils: 1981-1987. Wheaton, IL: Allured Publishing.
Oswiecimska M. 1974. Correlation between number of chromatosomes and prochamazuelene in East
European Achillea. Planta Medica. 25(4):389-395.
Ramadan M, Goeters S, Watzer B, Krause E, Lohmann K et al. 2006. Chamazulene carboxylic acid and
matricin: a natural profen and its natural prodrug, identified through similarity to synthetic drug
substances. J Nat Prod. 69(7):1041-5.
Ryman D. 1991. Aromatherapy. London: Piatkus.
Salehi P, Kohanteb G, Momeni Danaei Sh, Vahedi R. 2005. Comparison of the antibacterial effects of Persica
and Matrica, two herbal mouthwashes with chlorhexidine mouthwash. Shiraz Univ Dental J. 6 (1,2): 63-72.
Sobti S, Pushpangadan P, Thapa R. 1979. Chemical and genetic investigations in essential oils of some
Ocimum species, their FI hybrids and synthesized allopolyploids. Lloydia. 4: 50-55.
Stearn W. 1998. Botanical Latin, 4th ed. Portland, OR: Timber Press.
Svedman C, Engfeldt M, Api A, Politano V, Belsito D, et al. 2012. A pilot study aimed at finding a suitable eugenol concentration for a leave-on product for use in a repeated open application test. Contact
Dermatitis. 66(3):137-9.
Tucker A. 2014. Personal communication.
Tucker A, Maciarello M. 1987. Plant identification. In Simon J Grant (ed) Proceedings of the 1st National
Herb Growing and Marketing Conference. West Lafayette IN. Purdue University Press. 341-372.
Tucker A, Maciarello M. 1990. Essential Oils of Cultivars of Dalmation safe (Salvia officinalis). Journal
of Essential Oil Research. 2:139-144.
Vernet P, Gouyon D. 1976. Le polymorphisme chimique de Thymus vulgaris. Parfums, Cosmetiques,
Aromes. 30:31-45.
Zrira S, Menut C, Bessiere J, Benjilali B. 2007. Chemical Composition of the Essential Oils of Moroccan
Ormenis mixta (L.) Dumort. ssp. Multicaulis. J Essential Oil Bearing Plants. 10(5): 378-85.
CHAPTER 3 | Basic Plant Taxonomy, Basic Essential Oil Chemistry
Chemistry makes an excellent handmaid but the worst possible mistress. Buhner 2012.
For this section, I am grateful to Professor K. Hüsnü Can Başer for his essential
oil chemistry chapters plus numerous papers and to Ian Cambray-Smith for his
chemistry course notes and creating most of the chemical drawings. I have tried to
make what is an extremely complicated subject as simple and as relevant to aromatherapists, as possible. I have selected research papers to illustrate the wide range
of potential properties of essential oil components. My intention is that the reader
will look anew at essential oils they may have used previously for other outcomes. It
is worth remembering that sometimes the minor components of essential oils can
be important in aromatherapy. For example, the strong, sweet, floral smell of rose
(Rosa damascena) is created by the high content of citronellol, geraniol modified by
nerol (5 to 11%) and farnesol (0.2 to 1.4%) (Başer et al 2012). For possible toxicity
and side effects please see Chapter 4.
Essential oils are made up of terpenoids and nonterpenoid volatile hydrocarbons
(Baser & Demirci 2011). These constituents contain a basic frame of carbon and
hydrogen to which a “functional group” is added (Tisserand & Young 2013). A
functional group is a term familiar to aromatherapists and means “a group of
atoms the shape of which determines the characteristic chemical properties of the
molecule” (Tisserand & Young 2013). There are six classes (functional groups) of
organic compound that are important to aromatherapists (Cambray-Smith 2013).
In alphabetical order, they are: alcohols, aldehydes, esters, ethers, ketones, and
Simple hydrocarbons such as alkanes, alkenes, and benzenoids are called
nonterpenoid hydrocarbons due to the fact that their biosynthesis is not due to
mevalonate or nonmevalonate (d-erythritol 4-phosphate [MEP]) pathways. Phenylpropanoids are synthesized through the Shikimic acid pathway (Tisserand &
Young 2013). For more information, please see the biosynthesis section of this
chapter. Please see Figure 3-1 for chemical drawings.
FIGURE 3-1 | Benzene rings (aromatic ring).
SECTION I | Overview
Terpenes—the largest single class of compounds found in essential oils, also called
isoprenoids (Baser & Demirci 2011)—are made up of isoprene molecules. Each
isoprene molecule (sometimes called isoprene unit) contains five carbon atoms
with double bonds. The simplest terpenes are monoterpenes that contain two
isoprene molecules. Sesquiterpenes have three isoprene molecules and diterpenes
have four (Table 3-4). Because each isoprene molecule has five carbon atoms, it is
easy to calculate the number of carbon atoms per molecule (Table 3-5). Terpenes
can be subdivided into groups acyclic or cyclic which indicate their structure. Acyclic terpenes are linear, like the monoterpene β-myrcene. Cyclic terpenes form a
ring, like the monoterpene p-cymene. Monocyclic, bicyclic, and tricyclic monoterpenes (meaning one, two, or three nonaromatic rings) occur in essential oils
(Baser & Demirci 2007). All terpenes end in -ene.
Monoterpenes are light molecules that evaporate quickly and are called “top notes” by
the perfume industry. Citrus oils, with the exception of bergamot, contain a high proportion of monoterpenes, in particular the optical isomer d-limonene, a cyclic form
(Cambray-Smith 2013). d-Limonene is the most commonly found optical isomer or
enantiomer of limonene and it is generally called limonene alone without mentioning
its d-enantiomer. All monoterpenes have antiseptic properties and they are thought
to be psychologically uplifting. Ocimene, α-pinene and limonene are monoterpenes.
Some monoterpenes such as limonene and α-pinene have antitumoral properties
(Rabi & Bishayee 2009), (Bhattachariee & Chatterjee 2013). Please see Table 3-6 for
some chemical structures. Limonene also is effective for relief of heartburn and gastroesophageal reflux (GERD) due to its gastric acid neutralizing effect and its support
TABLE 3-4 Structure of Terpenes
Molecular Structure
Chain, no ring
One ring
Two rings
TABLE 3-5 Isoprene Units in Terpenes
Chemical Constituent
Number of Isoprene Units
Number of Carbon Atoms
2 isoprene units
3 isoprene units
4 isoprene units
10 carbon atoms
15 carbon atoms
20 carbon atoms
CHAPTER 3 | Basic Plant Taxonomy, Basic Essential Oil Chemistry
of normal peristalsis (Sun 2007). Limonene occurs in most citrus oils and in dill
(Anethum graveolens). l-Limonene is present in spearmint oil and pine oil. Limonene
oxidizes on air-exposure. Oxidized d-limonene can cause skin irritation (Christensson et al 2009). Because terpenes are insoluble in water, the perfume industry frequently removes them to produce “terpeneless” essential oils (Guenther 1972).
Sesquiterpenes are less volatile than terpenes, have a greater potential for stereochemical diversity (Waterman 1993) and have stronger odors. They are antiinflammatory
(Jeena et al 2013) and have bactericidal properties (Ishnava et al 2013). Please see Table
3-7 for some chemical structures. Sesquiterpenes oxidize over time into sesquiterpenols. In patchouli oil, this oxidation is thought to improve the odor. One of the most
antiinflammatory sesquiterpenes, chamazulene, only has 14 carbon atoms but is usually included with sesquiterpenes. Chamazulene and caryophyllene have strong antioxidant (Ornano et al 2013) and antitumor activity (Feraz et al 2013; Park et al 2011).
Chamazulene is found in German chamomile. Sesquiterpenes can be monocyclic,
bicyclic or tricyclic and are a very diverse group (Baser & Demirci 2007). Examples
include α-bisabolene in black pepper (Piper nigrum) and β-caryophyllene in ylang ylang
(Cananga odorata) (Cambray-Smith 2013). Some sesquiterpenes such as α-farnesene
can be effective against the bacteria that cause tooth decay (Ishnava et al 2013).
There are very few diterpenes in essential oils because they are big, heavy molecules
with correspondingly high boiling points, so very few are present following the
steam distillation process (Cambray-Smith 2013). Diterpenes are generally found
in resins (Baser & Demirci 2007). An example is α-camphorene (Cambray-Smith
2013). Diterpenes can occur in solvent extracts.
TABLE 3-6 Some Monoterpenes and Their Properties
d-Limonene found in many
citrus peel oils (60-90%)
Inhibit various cancer cell
growths without toxicity
(Rabi & Bishayee 2009)
Dissolves gall stones
(Sun 2007)
α-Pinene found in Elettaria
cardamom (Cardamom)
Possible antitumoral activity
(Bhattachariee & Chatterjee
SECTION I | Overview
TABLE 3-7 Some Sesquiterpenes and Their Properties
α-Zingiberene found
in Zingiber officinalis
Antioxidant, increases
glutathione production
and reduces inflammation (Jeena et al 2013)
α-Farnesene in
Eucalyptus globulus
(blue gum eucalyptus)
Effective against
cariogenic bacteria
that cause tooth decay
(Ishnava et al 2013)
Terpenic alcohols (terpenols) are found in many essential oils. Their names all
end in -ol. Structurally, they have a hydroxyl group attached to one of their carbon
atoms (Table 3-8). Monoterpenols are thought to be good antiseptics with some
antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral properties (Opaichenova & Obreshkova
2003), (Chiang et al 2005). Some alcohols, such as terpinen-4-ol, are uplifting;
others like linalool are thought to be sedative (Yamamoto et al 2013). Usually
essential oils with a high percentage of monoterpenols, for example, palma rosa
(Cymbopogon martini), are safe to use undiluted on the skin. Geraniol in Cymbopogon martini (palma rosa) is effective against Escherichia coli (Duarte et al 2007)
and has antitumor and anticancer activity (Madankumur et al 2013). Terpinen-4-ol
in Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) is effective against multidrug-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) (Thomsen et al 2013), (Loughlin et al 2008) and also has
antitumor properties (Calcabrini et al 2004). Terpinen-4-ol was also found to prevent the influenza virus from entering host cells by disturbing the normal viral
membrane fusion procedure (Li et al 2013).
CHAPTER 3 | Basic Plant Taxonomy, Basic Essential Oil Chemistry
TABLE 3-8 Some Monoterpenols and Their Properties
Linalool in Ocimum
basilicum (basil)
Linalool in Lavandula
angustifolia (lavender)
Geraniol in Cymbopogon
martini (palma rosa)
Terpinen-4-ol in Melaleuca
alternifolia (tea tree)
Effective against MRSA and
resistant Pseudomonas
(Opaichenova & Obreshkova 2003); antiviral (Chiang
et al 2005)
Inhaled linalool altered
hypothalamic gene expression in rats under stress
(Yamamoto et al 2013)
Antitumor and anticancer
activity (Madankumur
et al 2013)
Antimicrobial against E. Coli
(Duarte et al 2007)
Effective against MRSA
(Loughlin et al 2008)
Antitumor and anticancer
activity (Madankumur
et al 2013); inhibits growth
of melanoma cells
(Calcabrini et al 2004)
Sesquiterpenols have 15 carbon atoms and a variety of therapeutic effects (Table 3-9).
Farnesol found in Australian sandalwood (Santalum spicatum) enhanced amphotericin B and caspofungin activity against Candida (Cordeiro et al 2013). It also appeared
to protect lungs from the damage of cigarette smoke (Wajhul & Sarwat 2008).
Patchoulol found in Patchouli cablin (patchouli) is effective against influenza (Kiyohara et al 2012) and also has antiinflammatory properties (Li 2011). α-Bisabolol found
in Matricaria recutita (German chamomile) has its own antiinflammatory (Kamatou
et al 2010) and antinociceptive-like action (de Miranda et al 2010). Nerolidol, found
in Melaleuca quinquenervia, enhanced the insecticidal and ovicidal effect of 0.5%
tea tree against hair nits (Di Campli et al 2012). The Amazonian Waiapi tribe treat
malaria by inhaling the essential oil from the leaf of Virola surinamensis. Nerolidol is
one of the active components of Virola surinamensis (Lopes et al 1999). Sclareol has
shown significant cytotoxic activity against both human leukemic and breast cell lines
SECTION I | Overview
TABLE 3-9 Some Sesquiterpenols and Their Properties
Farnesol found in Santalum
(Australian sandalwood)
Enhances amphotericin B and
caspofungin activity against
Candida (Cordeiro et al
2013); may protect lungs
from cigarette smoke
(Wajhul & Sarwat 2008)
α-Bisabolol found in
Matricaria recutita
(German chamomile)
Antiinflammatory (Kamatou
et al 2010); possible peripheral topical analgesic (de
Miranda 2010)
Patchoulol found in
patchouli cablin (Patchouli)
Antiviral against influenza
(Kiyohara et al 2012)
Antiinflammatory (Li 2011)
and also enhances the effect of anticancer drugs (doxorubicin, etoposide, and cisplatinum) against MDD2 breast cancer cell lines (Dimas et al 2006).
Phenolic Terpenes
A phenol is a hydroxyl group that is bonded directly to one of the six carbon atoms in
a benzene ring (Table 3-10). Like alcohols, phenol names end in -ol, but they should
not be mistaken for the much gentler alcohols. Benzene (aromatic) rings can easily
be formed from aliphatic (nonbenzene) rings, but the reverse reaction rarely occurs
(Guenther 1972). Phenols are widespread in nature, for example, adrenaline and tetrahydrocannabinol (the hallucinogenic ingredient in marijuana) (Cambray-Smith 2013).
There are two principal phenols found in essential oils: carvacrol and thymol. Carvacrol
and thymol of oregano, satureja, thyme, etc., are isomeric monoterpenic phenols.
Phenols need to be treated with care because they are irritating to the skin
and mucous membrane (Tisserand & Young 2013). Most have very strong antibacterial properties, with a stimulating effect on both the nervous system and the
immune system. Thymol (from Thymus vulgaris CT thymol) has antimicrobial,
antioxidant, and antitumoral properties (Nikolić et al 2014). It is effective against
Pseudomonas and may be useful in cystic fibrosis (Helenicy et al 2012). Eugenol,
found in Syzygium aromaticum (clove bud) and Ocimum sanctum (holy basil), is
CHAPTER 3 | Basic Plant Taxonomy, Basic Essential Oil Chemistry
TABLE 3-10 Some Phenols and Their Properties
Thymol found in Thymus
vulgaris, common thyme
Thymol found in Lippia
sidoides (pepper-rosmarin)
Antimicrobial, antioxidant,
and antitumoral (Nikolić
et al 2014)
Effective against Pseudomonas
and may be useful in cystic
fibrosis (Helenicy et al 2012)
Eugenol found in Syzygium
aromaticum (clove bud)
Eugenol found in Ocimum
sanctum (holy basil)
Vasorelaxant (Damiani et al
Antimicrobial against E. coli,
S. aureus (Walsh et al 2003)
Antifungal against Aspergillus
(Kumar et al 2010)
Carvacrol found in Zataria
multiflora (Iranian thyme)
Carvacrol found in Origanum
bilgeri (Turkish oregano)
Effective against bacterial
vaginosis (Simar et al 2008),
vaginal candida (Islami et al
Acaricidal against ticks
(Koc et al 2013)
a vasorelaxant (Damiani et al 2003). It has antimicrobial properties, particularly
against E. coli and S. aureus (Walsh et al 2003) and is also antifungal (Kumar et al
2010). Carvacrol found in Zataria multiflora (Iranian thyme), Origanum vulgare
(oregano) and Thymus vulgaris CT carvacrol (thyme) is effective against bacterial
vaginosis (Simar et al 2008) and vaginal candida (Islami et al 2004). Carvacrol
is also acaricidal and effective against ticks (Koc et al 2013). Carvacrol also has
anticarcinogenic effects (Baser 2008). The compound phenol (carbolic acid) is
a disinfectant derived from coal tar and not found in essential oils (Tisserand &
Young 2013).
Ethers (Phenolic) or Phenylpropanoids
Ethers found in essential oils are phenylmethyl ethers or phenolic ethers or,
more scientifically, alkenylbenzenes (Cambray-Smith 2013). Ethers occur when a
methyl or ethyl group is attached to a benzene ring via an oxygen molecule (Table
3-11). Examples (in alphabetical order) are anethole, apiol, eugenol, estragole,
myristicin, and safrole (Tisserand & Young 2013). Estragole is sometimes called
SECTION I | Overview
TABLE 3-11 An Ether and Its Properties
trans-Anethole in Foeniculum
vulgare (fennel)
Estrogenic activity (Mazaheri
et al 2013)
methyl-chavicol (Tisserand & Young 2013). Ethers are not widely distributed but
are found in some common essential oils, for example: anise, basil, cinnamon
leaf, and fennel. Ethers are less aggressive on the skin than phenols. However,
some ethers like myristicin have hallucinogenic properties when taken orally
(Ehrenpreis et al 2014). Myristicin (found in nutmeg) has a similar structure to
MMDA a precursor to MDMA (ecstasy). trans-Anethole in Foeniculum vulgare
(fennel) has estrogenic activity (Mazaheri et al 2013) as does anethole from several
Pimpinella species (Baser et al 2007).
An aldehyde is a partially oxidized primary alcohol (Tisserand & Young 2013).
Structurally, it has an oxygen atom double bonded to a carbon atom at the end of
a carbon chain (Table 3-12). The fourth bond is always a hydrogen atom (Bowles
2000). Aldehydes usually end in -al and often have sedative, calming effects, as
well as being important to the aroma of the plant. Examples include citral in
lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), β-citronellal in lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus),
geranial in lemon eucalyptus (Eucalyptus citriodora), and neral in lemon verbena
(Aloysia triphylla). Geranial and neral are isomers. This means they have the same
molecular make-up but the carboxyl molecule is in a different place. Geranial
(α-citral) and neral (β-citral) occur naturally as a mixture of the two isomers in
citral (Tisserand & Young 2013). Citral has strong antiseptic and antibacterial
properties and is effective against MRSA (Saddiq & Khayyat 2010). It also has
antiinflammatory properties and enhances the effect of naproxen (Ortiz et al
2010). Citronellal has antifungal properties (Mimica-Dukic et al 2004) especially
against Candida (Zore et al 2011). In some interesting new research, citronellal may increase olfactory sensitivity in patients with Parkinson-impaired olfaction (Haehner et al 2013). Cinnamaldehyde found in Cinnamomum zeylanicum
(cinnamon) has antimicrobial and antifungal properties (Unlu et al 2010). It is a
potential antidiabetic agent (Subash et al 2007) and has been found to decrease
muscle soreness after exercise (Mashhadi et al 2013). Isolated aldehydes can be
CHAPTER 3 | Basic Plant Taxonomy, Basic Essential Oil Chemistry
TABLE 3-12 Some Aldehydes and Their Properties
Citronellal found in Eucalyptus
Citronellal found in Melissa
officinalis (melissa)
Neral & geranial (citral) in
Cymbopogon citratus
Cinnamaldehyde in
Cinnamomum zeylanticum
Antifungal especially Candida
(Zore et al 2011)
Antifungal (Mimica-Dukic et al
May increase olfactory sensitivity
in patients with Parkinsonimpaired olfaction (Haehner
et al 2013)
Antibacterial against MRSA
(Saddiq & Khayyat 2010)
Enhances antiinflammatory effect
of naproxen (Ortiz et al 2010)
Antimicrobial, antifungal
(Unlu et al 2010)
Potential antidiabetic agent
(Subash et al 2007)
Decreases muscle soreness after
exercise (Mashhadi et al 2013)
dermal irritants, but when the whole essential oil is used the irritating effect of
aldehydes appears to be ameliorated by the presence of terpenes, such as limonene
or α-pinene (Opdyke & Letizia 1982).
Esters are a combination of an acid and an alcohol and take their name from the
acid and alcohol (Table 3-13). Hence, acetic acid and linalool produce linalyl acetate. Acids do not occur in essential oils but can be found in floral waters. Esters end
in –ate and have antispasmodic (Ou et al 2012) and calming properties (Igarashi
2013). Some are also antifungal. They often smell very fruity. Examples include
linalyl acetate in lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), clary sage (Salvia sclarea) and
bergamot (Citrus aurantium subsp. bergamia), and geranyl acetate in sweet marjoram (Origanum majorana). An essential oil with a very high ester content (85%)
is Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum/Anthemis nobilis). Esters are usually safe
in high amounts except for methyl salicylate. Methyl salicylate occurs at approximately 98% in sweet birch (Betula lenta) and wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens)
essential oils. Methyl anthranilate found in mandarin (Citrus reticulata) has antiandrogenic potential that could be useful in prostate cancer (Roell et al 2011). Bornyl
SECTION I | Overview
TABLE 3-13 Some Esters and Their Properties
Linalyl acetate found in
Lavandula angustifolia
Reduces stress in pregnant
women (Igarashi 2013)
Pain relief in primary dysmenorrhea (Ou et al 2012)
Reduce serum cortisol in
healthy men (Shiina et al
Methyl anthranilate found in
Citrus reticulata (mandarin)
Antiandrogenic potential for
prostate cancer (Roell et al
Bornyl acetate found in Picea
mariana (black spruce)
Possible preventive agent for
lung inflammatory diseases
(Chen et al 2014)
acetate found in Picea mariana (black spruce) is a possible preventive agent for
lung inflammatory diseases (Chen et al 2014). Linalyl acetate found in lavender
(Lavandula angustifolia) reduced serum cortisol in healthy men (Shiina et al 2008).
Ketones contain the carbonyl group (–C=O) and so are related to the aldehydes.
Ketones and aldehydes are both found in biological molecules, e.g., progesterone
and testosterone (Cambray-Smith 2013). A ketone is derived from an alcohol by
oxygenation and has an oxygen atom double bonded to a carbon atom that is also
bonded to two other carbon atoms (Table 3-14) (Bowles 2000). Ketones end in
-one with a single exception: camphor. This substance has no relation to the plant
camphor. Some ketones can produce adverse effects when taken orally and, because
ketones are resistant to metabolism, this adverse effect can build up in the liver.
The most cited toxic ketone is d-pulegone (found in pennyroyal), which caused the
death of a 23-year-old woman in 1897 after she drank 15 mL of undiluted essential
oil (Allen 1897). That is a large amount to swallow. A child who developed hepatic
malfunction and severe epileptic encephalopathy after swallowing a large amount
of unknown essential oil tested positive for pulegone (Bakerink et al 1996).
Examples of essential oils that contain large amounts of ketones (in alphabetical order) are: caraway, frankincense, hyssop, peppermint, rosemary, sage, and
spearmint (Cambray-Smith 20130. Clearly caution should be used when these
CHAPTER 3 | Basic Plant Taxonomy, Basic Essential Oil Chemistry
TABLE 3-14 A Ketone and Its Properties
l-Carvone found in Mentha ×
spicata (spearmint)
Possible chemopreventive
agent against colon cancer
(Vinothkumar et al 2013)
are ingested. Ketones that are beneficial to the skin include jasmone in jasmine
(Jasminum officinale) and isomenthone in geranium (Pelargonium graveolens).
Other useful ketones are d-carvone in spearmint (Mentha × spicata), fenchone in
fennel (Foeniculum vulgare var. dulce) and verbenone in rosemary (Rosmarinus
officinalis). d-Carvone is a possible chemopreventive agent against colon cancer
(Vinothkumar et al 2013). Carvone occurs in two mirror images or enantiomers:
R(–)-carvone (or l(-)carvone) smells like spearmint. Its mirror image, S-(+)carvone (or d-carvone), smells like caraway.
Two unusual ketones (italidione and beta-diketone) are found only in “everlasting” (sometimes called “immortelle”)—Helichrysum italicum (Stewart 2005). A
diketone contains two ketone groups. Both italidione and beta-diketone contribute
to the unusual fragrance of Helichrysum and its remarkable antihematoma properties. I have used Helichrysum occasionally undiluted on the skin for bruises and
contusions with excellent results, but I could find no published research, which is
rather surprising.
In chemical terminology, an oxide is called an ether or a peroxide. However,
using the term ether might be confusing because there is group of phenolic ethers
in aromatherapy that have different properties. The use of the term oxide in aromatherapy is a little more general because the carbons are not neighbors. (Oxides
in organic chemistry typically involve an oxygen bridge between two neighboring
carbon atoms.) In aromatherapy, an ‘oxide’ has an oxygen atom in a chain of
carbons, that forms a non aromatic ring (Table 3-15). The most common oxide
is cineole—a strong expectorant. Both 1,4-cineole and 1,8-cineole occur in essential oils (Tisserand & Young 2014). 1,8 cineole is sometimes called eucalyptol
and is found in blue gum (Eucalyptus globulus), rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis
CT cineole), and bay laurel (Laurus nobilis). Research indicates that 1,8-cineole,
found in Eucalyptus globulus (blue gum) is a possible antiinflammatory agent for
neurodegenerative disease (Khan et al 2014). Other oxides are ascaridole found
SECTION I | Overview
TABLE 3-15 An Oxide and Its Properties
1,8-Cineole found in Eucalyptus
globulus (blue gum)
Possible antiinflammatory agent in
neurodegenerative disease (Khan
et al 2014)
TABLE 3-16 Lactones and Their Properties
Nepetalactone found
in Nepeta parnassica
(giant catnip)
Alantolactone found in
Inula helenium root
Mosquito repellant (Gkinis et al
Antimicrobial against Staphylococcus aureus (Stojanović-Radić
et al 2012)
Anticancer activity in some
cancer lines (Khan et al 2013)
in wormseed (Chenopodium ambrosioides var. anthelminticum) and rose oxide
found in both geranium (Pelargonium graveolens) and rose (Rosa damascena).
Ascaridole shows interesting antitumor activity in sarcoma cells (Bezerra 2009).
Lactones are mainly found in expressed oils and some absolutes like jasmine
(Clarke 2002). They are cyclic esters derived from lactic acid (Baser & Demirci
2007) and have an oxygen atom double bonded to a carbon atom. The carbon
atom is attached to another oxygen atom that is part of a closed ring (Table 3-16).
Lactones tend to end in -lactone or -ine. The percentage of lactones present may
be low, but they are traditionally thought to play an important role as mucolytics
(Clarke 2002; Schnaubelt 2011; Rhind 2012). Alantolactone is present in elecampane (Inula helenium) and is effective against Staphylococcus aureus (StojanovićRadić et al 2012). It also has anticancer activity in some cancer lines (Khan et al
2013). However, elecampane is linked to skin sensitization, as are many lactones
(Tisserand & Young 2013). Nepetalactone, found in catnip (Nepeta cataria), is a
mosquito repellant (Gkinis et al 2014). It is also feline attractant.
Coumarins are a subgroup of lactones. They have an oxygen atom double
bonded to a carbon atom. That carbon atom is attached to another oxygen (that
is part of a closed ring) and they also have a benzene ring attached (Table 3-17).
Coumarins usually end in -one (pronounced own), as in umbelliferone, or
CHAPTER 3 | Basic Plant Taxonomy, Basic Essential Oil Chemistry
TABLE 3-17 Structural Similarities between Coumarin and Warfarin
May have potential use in Alzheimer’s
(Huang et al 2013)
Anticoagulant (Cavallari et al 2011)
with -in, as in coumarin. Coumarins are present in very small amounts in
essential oils. There is sometimes confusion between the functional group,
coumarin, and the chemical dicoumarol (Mills 1991). Dicoumarol is created
naturally by the breakdown of the sweet clover plant. Synthetic dicoumarol is
the basis of the anticoagulant drug warfarin (Cavallari et al 2011). The chemical drawing (see Figure 3-18) shows a coumarin structure within warfarin.
Some coumarins may reduce clotting time if taken internally. Ramesh & Pugalendi (2007) found that umbelliferone normalized prothrombin, clotting and
bleeding time in diabetic rats. Previously, they had found umbelliferone to be
antihyperglycemic (Ramesh et al 2006) and antidiabetic (Ramesh et al 2005).
Coumarins may have a future role to play in Alzheimer’s disease as coumarins
are important acetylcholinesterase (AChE) inhibitors. Chinese research found
a coumarin derivative was a 100 times better than the conventional drug donepezil (Huang et al 2013).
Furanocoumarins (FCs) are present (<2%) in citrus-peel oils and a few other
essential oils, for example: angelica (Angelica archangelica) root and rue (Ruta
graveolens). FCs react in the presence of ultraviolet light to produce a phototoxic
effect, resulting in burns or erythema. Even small dilutions (0.03%) applied to the
skin can result in phototoxicity (Tisserand & Young 2013). A phototoxic effect
was also produced with a 2.4% concentration on pale skin and 15% concentration on dark brown or black skin. Sometimes, the pigmentation can remain for
life. Extensive burns can also result from oral ingestion of FCs in combination of
UV exposure (Tisserand & Young 2013). Common FCs include bergapten (found
in expressed bergamot, bitter orange, grapefruit, lemon, lime (and in steam distilled angelica root), and bergamottin (found in expressed bergamot, grapefruit,
lemon and lime). Bergamottin is antitumoral in human fibrosarcoma HT-1080
cells (Hwang et al 2012).
SECTION I | Overview
Some people believe there is more to an essential oil than the sum of its parts: that
there is a synergy of all those parts working together. Some people believe there is
an energy or vibration to an essential oil and this plays a major role in healing. Some
people think essential oils have yin- and yang-like qualities. Others think the effect
of essential oils is purely chemical so by isolating the part, the effect will be grasped.
Whatever your view, I hope this short overview of chemistry for aromatherapists,
has been useful. There are some excellent chemistry chapters, books, and courses
relevant to aromatherapy available for those wanting to delve further.
Allen W. 1897. Note on a case of supposed poisoning by pennyroyal. Lancet. 1:1022-1023.
Bakerink J, Gospe S, Dimand R et al. 1996. Multiple organ failure after ingestion of pennyroyal oil from
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Baser K. H. C., Demirci F. 2007. In Flavours and Fragrances: Chemistry, Bioprocessing and Sustainability.
Berger RG. Ed. Springer, Berlin. P 43-86.
Baser K. H. C., Tabanca N, Kirimer N, Bedir E, Khan I, Wedge D. 2007. Recent advances in the chemistry
and biological activities of the Pimpinella species of Turkey. Pure Appl Chem. 79(4):539-556.
Başer K. H. C. 2008. Biological and Pharmacological Activities of Carvacrol and Carvacrol Bearing Essential Oils. Current Pharmaceutical Design. 14, 3106-3120.
Baser K. H. C., Demirci F. 2011. Kirk-Othmer Enclyclopedia of Chemical Technology. 4th edition. Wiley. P 1-37.
Başer K. H. C., Altintas A, Kürkçüoglu M. 2012. A Review of the History, Ethnobotany, and Modern
Uses of Rose Petals, Rose Oil, Rose Water, and Other Rose Products. Herbalgram. 96:41-53.
Bezerra D, Marinho Filho B, Alves A, Pessoa C, De Moraes M et al. 2009. Antitumor activity of the essential oil from the leaves of Croton regelianus and its component ascaridole. Chem Biodivers. 6(8):
Bhattachariee B, Chatterjee J. 2013. Identification of proapoptopic, anti-inflammatory, anti- proliferative,
anti-invasive and anti-angiogenic targets of essential oils in cardamom by dual reverse virtual screening
and binding pose analysis. Asian Pac J Cancer Prev. 14(6):3735-42.
Bowles J. 2000. The Basic Chemistry of Chemotherapeutic Essential Oils. Sydney, Australia: Pirie Printers.
Buhner S H. 2012. Herbal Antibiotics. Storey Publishing. p 381.
Calcabrini A, Stringaro A, Toccacieli L, Meschini S, Marra M, Colone M et al. 2004. Terpinen-4-ol, the
main component of Melaleuca alternifolia (Tea tree) oil inhibits the in vitro growth of human melanoma
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Cambray-Smith I. 2013. Essential Chemistry Course Notes. Natural Science. Malmsbury, UK.
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acetate is correlated with regulation of myeloperoxidase activity. J Surg Res. 186(1):436-45.
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constituents of Ocimum Basilicum. Clin Exp Pharmacol Phys. 32(10): 811-816.
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skin irritation from fragrance terpenes. Contact Dermatitis. 60(1): 32-40.
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Med Mycol. 51(1):53-9.
CHAPTER 3 | Basic Plant Taxonomy, Basic Essential Oil Chemistry
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(-) a-bisabolol as a novel peripheral nervous blocker. Neurosci Lett. 472(1):11-15.
Di Campli E, Di Bartolomeo S, Delli Pizzi P, Di Giulio M, Grande R et al. 2012. Activity of tea tree oil
and nerolidol alone or in combination against Pediculus capitis (head lice) and its eggs. Parasitol Res.
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of anticancer drugs. Biomed Pharmacol. 60(3):127-133.
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Gkinis G, Michaelakis A, Koliopoulos G, Ioannou E, Tzakou O, Roussis V. 2014.
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metabolite against mosquitoes. Parasitol Res. PMID: 24449446. Accessed January 29 2014.
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Helenicy N, Veras F, Rodrigques A, Colares I, Menez H et al 2012. Synergistic antibiotic activity
of volatile compounds from the essential oil of Lippia sidoides and thymol. Fitoterapia. 83(3):
Huang L, Su T, Li X. 2013. Natural products as sources of new lead compounds for the treatment of
Alzheimer’s disease. Curr Top Med Chem. 13(15):1864-78.
Hwang Y, Yun H, Choi J, Kang K, Jeong H. 2012. Suppression of phorbol-12-myristate-13-acetate-induced
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Igarashi T. 2013. Physical and psychologic effects of aromatherapy inhalation on pregnant women: a
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essential oil from ginger. Indian J Physiol Pharmacol. 57(1):51-62.
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HepG2 cells through GSH depletion, inhibition of STAT3 activation, and mitochondrial dysfunction.
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inflammation in amyloid Beta toxicated PC12 cells: relevance to Alzheimer’s disease. Neurochem Res.
SECTION I | Overview
Kiyohara H, Ichino C, Kawamura Y, Nagai T, Sato N, Yamada H. 2012. Patchouli alcohol: in vitro direct
anti-influenza virus sesquiterpene in Pogostemon cablin Benth. J Nat Med-Tokyo, 66 (2012): 55-61.
Koc S, Oz E, Cinbilgel I, Aydin L, Cetin H. 2013. Acaricidal activity of Origanum bilgeri P.H. Davis
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Kumar A, Sukia R, Singh P, Dubey N. 2010. Chemical composition, antifungal and antiaflatoxigenic
activities of Ocimum sanctum L. essential oil and its safety assessment as plant based antimicrobial.
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Li X, Duan S, Chu C, Xu J, Zeng G et al. 2013. Melaleuca alternifolia concentrate inhibits in vitro entry
of influenza virus into host cells. Molecules. 8(8):9550-66.
Li Y, Xian Y, Ip, S, Su Z, Su, J, He J et al. 2011. Anti-inflammatory activity of patchouli alcohol isolated
from Pogostemonis Herba in animal models. Fitoterapia, 82(8): 1295-1301.
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surinamensis by Waiapi Amazon Indians. J Ethnopharmacol. 67(3): 313-319.
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oil on cisplatin-induced nephrotoxicity in ovariectomized rats. Toxicol Int. 20(2): 138-145.
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Ocimum basilicum L. against multidrug resistant clinical isolates of the genera Staphylococcus, Enterococcus and Pseudomonas by using different test methods. J Microbiol Methods. 54(1):105-10.
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CHAPTER 3 | Basic Plant Taxonomy, Basic Essential Oil Chemistry
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Shiina Y, Funabashi N, Lee K, Toyoda T, Sekine T et al 2008. Relaxation effects of lavender aromatherapy
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Thomsen N, Hammer K, Riley T, Van Belkum A, Carson C. 2013. Effect of habituation to tea tree
(Melaleuca alternifolia) oil on the subsequent susceptibility of Staphylococcus spp. to antimicrobials,
triclosan, tea tree oil, terpinen-4-ol and carvacrol. Int J Antimicrob Agents. 41(4):343-51.
Tisserand R, Young R. 2014. Essential Oil Safety. 2nd edition. London: Churchill Livingstone.
Unlu M, Ergene E, Unlu G, Zeytinoglu H, Vural N et al. 2010. Composition, antimicrobial activity
and in vitro cytotoxicity of essential oil from Cinnamomum zeylanicum. Food Chem Toxicol. 48(11):
Vinothkumar R, Sudha M, Viswanathan P, Kabalimoorthy J, Balasubramanian T, Nalini N. 2013.
Modulating effect of d-carvone on 1,2-dimethylhydrazine-induced pre-neoplastic lesions, oxidative
stress and biotransforming enzymes, in an experimental model of rat colon carcinogenesis. Cell Prolif.
Wajhul K, Sarwat S. 2008. Farnesol ameliorates massive inflammation, oxidative stress and lung injury induced by intratracheal instillation of cigarette smoke extract in rats: An initial step in lung
chemoprevention. Chemico-Biol Interact. 176(2-3):79-87.
Walsh S, Maillard J-Y, Russell A, Catrenich C, Charbonneau D et al. 2003. Activity and mechanisms
of action of selected biocidal agents on Gram-positive and -negative bacteria. J Appl Microbiol.
Waterman P. 1993. The chemistry of volatile oils. In Hay R, Waterman P (eds.), Volatile Oil Crops: Their
Biology, Biochemistry and Production. Essex, UK: Longman Scientific and Technical, 47-61.
Yamamoto N, Fujiwara S, Saito-Lizumi K, Kamei A, Shinozaki F et al. 2013. Effects of Inhaled (S)Linalool on Hypothalamic Gene Expression in Rats under Restraint Stress. Biosc Biotechnol Biochem.
Zore G, Thakre A, Jadhav S, Karuppayil S. 2011. Terpenoids inhibit Candida albicans growth by affecting
membrane integrity and arrest of cell cycle. Phytomedicine. 18(13) 1181-1190.
SECTION I | Overview
“All we have yet discovered is but a trifle in comparison with what still lies hid in the
great treasury of nature.” Anton von Leeuwenhoek. 1679.
There are several ways of extracting volatile components from plants. Some
methods produce classic essential oils, others produce extracts. See Figure 3-2
and Table 3-18 for comparisons of the extraction procedures used for aromatic
extracts and essential oils. Traditionally aromatherapy has specified only the
use of essential oils (from distillation or expression), but some extracts are now
becoming acceptable.
Essential oils are either distilled or expressed (Arctander 1960). Distillation can
mean water distillation, water-and-steam distillation, steam distillation, or steamand-vacuum distillation (Arctander 1960). To give some idea of yield, 200 kg of
Lavandula angustifolia flowers will produce 1 kg of essential oil. However, between 2
and 5 metric tons of rose petals are needed to produce the same amount of rose oil.
Distillation (Steam)
The design of the distillation plants varies from region to region. Traditional and
sometimes rather simple methods are still being used in some developing countries.
Industrialized nations tend to use more technologically advanced equipment that
Extracts vs. essential oils
Aromatic extracts
obtained by
Essential oils
obtained by
essential oils
Solvent extraction
Citrus peel oils
Maceration with alcohol
FIGURE 3-2 | Essential oils versus extracts. (Adapted from Williams D. Lecture Notes on
Essential Oils. With kind permission of Eve Taylor, London. 1989.)
CHAPTER 3 | Basic Plant Taxonomy, Basic Essential Oil Chemistry
is computer-controlled with software that can monitor the product throughout the
distillation process. Nevertheless, excellent quality oils can be obtained even with a
basic distillation apparatus. The aromatic plant material is placed on a grid through
which steam passes, usually at a temperature not above 100° C (Bowles 2000). See
Figure 3-3 for more details. The water boils at temperatures between 88° C and
100° C depending on the altitude at the distillation site.
High-pressure steam is the fastest way of distilling essential oils with high-boiling
constituents like vetiver, sandalwood, and clove. The steam loosens the volatile nonpolar constituents of the plant and they pass, with the steam, into a condenser that
cools the mixture. Steam also alters some of the components within an essential oil,
for example, turning matricin to chamazulene. Some of the polar components from
the plant dissolve in the water, producing floral water. The mixture of floral water
and essential oil is cooled and becomes liquid. As essential oils and floral water do
not mix, they quickly separate—the majority of essential oils float above the floral
water, but some sink, depending on their specific gravity.
The degree of heat and the amount of time are vital parts of the distillation
process as some components of plants are very sensitive to heat and others take
much longer to distill (Guenther 1974). The distillation process for Lavandula
angustifolia is approximately one hour, but it is considerably longer for sandalwood or vetiver. The length of the distillation process will affect the chemical
composition of the essential oil (Guenther 1976). Steam distillation is suitable for
the highly volatile components such as the monoterpenes, but heavier molecules
like di or sesquiterpenes take longer. Some floral waters (hydrolats) can also be
used therapeutically. Portable distillation equipment is simple to make and can
TABLE 3-18 Advantages and Disadvantages of Various Extraction Processes
Extraction Process
Large quantities can be
Little labor needed
No heat required
Simple apparatus
Changing constituents
Depending on time/temp
Low temperature needed
CO2 extraction
Constant product
No heat used
Constant product
Solvent extraction
Some flavoring left
Only citrus peel oils
Oxidize quickly
Time consuming
Labor intensive
Different chemistry to essential oil
Solvent residues
Different chemistry to essential oil
SECTION I | Overview
Steam and
volatile oil
Plant material
FIGURE 3-3 | Steam distillation. (Reproduced from Price S. Practical Aromatherapy, with
the kind permission of Harper Collins, London. 1983.)
be used for small quantities of plants when essential oils must be distilled on site
(Alkaire & Simon 1992).
Variations of Steam Distillation
Cohobation: The water used in the distillation process is reused (Guenther 1974).
Fractional distillation: The essential oil is distilled at specific temperatures
for specific lengths of time to collect different factions (or functional groups)
within the essential oil. For example, peppermint contains menthol (a monoterpene) that is less volatile than other peppermint monoterpenes (e.g., αpinene, β-pinene, sabinene and limonene) and other low boiling hydrocarbons.
Monoterpenes evaporate at different temperatures, but many of the peppermint monoterpenes evaporate below 150° to 185° C, so this temperature can
be used to “get rid” of lower boiling monoterpenes in order to obtain a highquality peppermint flavor (Gafner 2014). Nowadays, fractional distillation is
often done at reduced pressure in order to lower the boiling temperature.
Rectification: This aims to separate the volatile and nonvolatile components
of an essential oil. If an essential oil contains impurities, it can be purified by
CHAPTER 3 | Basic Plant Taxonomy, Basic Essential Oil Chemistry
redistillation. This process is called rectification. Sometimes peppermint and
caraway seed oils can take on an unpleasant odor if they have been in contact
with the wall of a hot still. This aroma can be removed through rectification
(Guenther 1974).
Steam-plus-vacuum distillation: This method uses steam with partial vacuum
(Arctander 1960). The pressure used is typically 100 to 200 mm Hg. The advantage
of this method is speed. The disadvantage is a fast method of cooling is required.
In expression, the production of essential oils (by mechanically pressing the product) involves mainly the peel of citrus plants, like oranges, lemons, or grapefruit.
The peel of the fruit is racked or abraded by mechanical scrapers, and the essence
collected by centrifugal separation. Sometimes the whole fruit is crushed before
the essential oil is separated from the juice and peel. Expressed oils will naturally
contain a proportion of waxes, and citrus oils may include other components such
as bergapten, a coumarin that can cause phototoxicity (Tisserand & Young 2013).
Methods for Producing Aromatic Extracts
(not essential oils)
There are other methods of extraction that produce compounds called absolutes.
These are mainly used by the fragrance and cosmetics industry. Rose absolute is
yellow, viscous, and sticky. Rose essential oil is clear and solid at room temperature.
The essential oil is ten times the price of the absolute. Residual solvents in extracts
can produce adverse reactions.
This method was used on fragile blossoms like jasmine and tuberose. It is rarely
used today as it is very labor intensive. I watched this process in Grasse, France.
Animal fat is pounded until soft, then glass plates are coated with the fat. Each fatcovered glass plate is called a chassis. Fresh blossoms are placed close together on
the chassis and left until the fat becomes saturated with essential oil. The chassis are
constantly being replenished with fresh blossoms, and the old blossoms discarded.
This process can take days or even weeks. The resulting oil/fat mixture is called
a pomade. The pomade is washed with alcohol to remove the fat. The remaining
extract is called an absolute. However, 99% of jasmine and tuberose extract is now
produced by solvent extraction.
Supercritical Fluid Extraction
Supercritical fluid extraction (SFE) with carbon dioxide has been available since the
1980s. When the temperature of CO2 is maintained at approximately 31° C, under
pressure, it acts like a fluid and dissolves the CO2-soluble constituents of an herb.
The interest in SFE has increased in recent years because of legal limitations of solvent residues and solvents (Vagi et al 2005). However, the chemistry of the resulting
extract is different to a steam-distilled essential oil because (a) less heat is used and (b)
SECTION I | Overview
some different components are absorbed by CO2 extraction (Guan Hou et al 2007).
For example, steam-distilled German chamomile (Matricaria recutita) essential oil is
dark blue because heat converts matricine (found in the plant) to chamazulene—a
sesquiterpene. However, matricine is present in the SFE extract. SFE extracts are not
available for every plant used in aromatherapy but there is no reason not to use them,
provided the chemistry is known and the components are relevant to the clinical goal
being targeted. Volatile oils can also be extracted with other solvents. The use of benzene has declined but it is still used (Tisserand & Young 2013). Hexane is commonly
used [cyclohexane and n-hexane (Tisserand & Young 2013)]. Such extracts are called
“volatile oils” to differentiate them from essential oils (Coelho et al 2012).
Resinoids are obtained from resins (amber and mastic), balsams (benzoin) or gumlike exudates (frankincense and myrrh). Frequently resinoids are extracted by solvents. However, frankincense and myrrh can also be obtained by steam distillation
or SFE. Resins are soluble in alcohol but not in water. Gums are soluble in water
but not in alcohol.
Notes (Aroma Intensities)
The aromas of essential oils have variable intensities, and these may last for different
periods of time. The perfume industry calls these properties “notes” (Teixeiry et al
2013). Poucher developed a classification method based on a perfume’s evaporation rate (1 to 100) that is still used today (Poucher 1993). Scents that evaporate
quickly (1 to 15) are called top notes, for example, mandarin (2) and nutmeg (11).
Middle notes (16 to 69) include marjoram (18), ylang ylang (24), and rose (43).
Base notes last the longest (70 to 100), for example, angelica (94). Perfumes with the
highest ratings last the longest and evaporate the slowest, for example, frankincense,
patchouli, sandalwood, and vetiver). A top note might last for a few hours, a middle
note for a couple of days, and a base note may last for several weeks.
The odor of an essential oil deteriorates as a result of oxidation. When an essential oil
has contact with air, certain components within it react with the oxygen. For example,
alcohols can react with oxygen to become aldehydes (Bowles 2000).The rate of oxidation is dependent on the exposure to oxygen and the reactivity of each individual
component of the essential oil. Heat and sunlight can speed up oxidation. The oxidization of an essential oil will affect its chemistry and thus its therapeutic potential.
Biosynthesis is the production of all plant secondary metabolites: alkaloids, bitters, glycosides, gums, saponins, steroids, and essential oil components. Only 1%
of flowering plants produce an essential oil in any significant amount, and for a
CHAPTER 3 | Basic Plant Taxonomy, Basic Essential Oil Chemistry
long time essential oils were thought to be unimportant to the plant. The number
of identified volatile chemicals synthesized by various plants exceeds 1000 and is
likely to grow as more plants are examined (Pichersky et al 2006). The largest class
of essential oil components is derived from isoprenoid pathways. The two basic
pathways are called the malonic acid pathway and the shikimic acid pathway (Taiz
& Zeiger 2014). Terpenoids are formed by malonic pathways and most phenylpropanoids and benzenoids derive from the shikimic acid pathway (Yang et al 2009).
Mevalonic Acid Pathway
Aromatic plants contain enzymes called terpene synthases (TPSs). These enzymes:
dimethylallyl pyrophosphate (DMAPP), geranyl pyrophosphate (GPP), farnesyl
pyrophosphate (FPP) and geranyl pyrophosphate (GPP), act as catalysts in the formation of mono-, sesqui-, and diterpene essential oil components (Pichersky et al 2006).
The plant first converts mevalonic acid to a 5-carbon structure called isoprene. Isoprene, known as methylbuta-1,3-diene to chemists, is a branched chain hydrocarbon
containing five carbon atoms and two double bonds. Isoprene is then converted with
GPP—an enzyme catalyst—to a 10-carbon molecule like a terpene (Cambray-Smith
2013). This process can continue with another enzyme catalyst, FPP, to produce a
15-carbon molecule like a sesquiterpene. Once the plant has formed GPP, the substance can be converted into alcohols or aldehydes as well as terpenes.
Shikimic Acid Pathway
Shikimic acid (3,4,5-trihydroxy-1-cyclohexene-1-carboxylic acid), another enzyme,
is an important catalyst in this second pathway of biosynthesis. This enzyme is proceeded by another enzyme, phenylalanine ammonia lyase (PAL). The pathway is
complex, but ultimately leads to the second largest class of essential oil components
that contain an aromatic ring, such as phenols (Mann 2001a). Please see Figure 3-4.
Storage of Essential Oils in Plants
Essential oils are stored in specific parts of a plant (Table 3-19). For example, rose
essential oil is found in the petals of the flowers, not the roots, leaves, or stem.
However, sometimes an essential oil is found in different parts of the same plant,
as in the case of angelica (Angelica archangelica) root and angelica seed, when the
chemistry of each essential oil is different. The essential oil from the root of angelica
can cause a skin reaction when ultraviolet light is used on the skin within 24 hours
of applying topically, but the essential oil from the seed does not.
Secretory and Storage Structures of Essential Oils
in Plants
Essential oils are stored in special secretory structures (Table 3-20). These can
be on the surface of the plant or within the plant tissue, and are found in many
kinds of plant: perennial, annual, biennial, evergreen and deciduous (Svoboda
& Svoboda 2001). Secretory structures vary and include oils cells, secretory
ducts or cavities and glandular hairs (Baser & Demirci 2007). Often the whole
SECTION I | Overview
cinnamic acid
FIGURE 3-4 | Biosynthesis. (Adapted from Waterman P. 1993. The Chemistry of volatile
oils. In Hay R, Waterman P (eds.), Volatile Oil Crops: Their Biology, Biochemistry and Production. Essex, UK: Longman Scientific and Technical, 47-61.)
family, or genus, of a plant will have a similar secretory system. This can be useful in plant identification.
Single, secretion-containing cells are common in many aromatic plants like
the leaves of lemongrass, rhizome of ginger, seed coat of cardamom, fruit wall
of black pepper, bark of cinnamon, and root of valerian. Secretory ducts are
elongated cavities found in plants like coriander, cumin, angelica, dill, anise,
and fennel (all members of the Umbelliferae family). Secretory cavities are
prevalent in the fruit and leaves of lemon, orange and bergamot in the Citrus
CHAPTER 3 | Basic Plant Taxonomy, Basic Essential Oil Chemistry
TABLE 3-19 Parts of Plant Where Essential Oils Are Stored
Location Where Oil Is Stored
Black pepper
Root, seed
Bark, leaf
Leaf, bud
Fruit peel
Whole herb
TABLE 3-20 Secretory Parts of Plants
Single secretion cells
Secretory cavities
Secretory ducts
Secretory hairs
Ginger, black pepper, cardamom, valerian, lemongrass
Citrus fruits, clove, myrrh, frankincense
Tarragon, angelica, aniseed, pine
Many plants in the Lamiaceae and Geraniaceae families
family. They are also found in the bark of myrrh, frankincense and in clove
buds. Glandular hairs are found on leaves and stems of plants such as basil, lavender, and marjoram in the Lamiaceae family. Epidermal cells diffuse essential
oil directly through the cytoplasm and cell wall to the outside, and the amount
of essential oil diffused is very low. Examples of aromatics with epidermal cells
are rose and jasmine.
The function of essential oils in plants is not fully understood. Some may protect a plant from being eaten by plant-eating animals or insects by repelling them
(Pichersky & Gershenzon 2002). For example, wild tobacco (Nicotiania sylvestris)
can increase its production of nicotine by three or four times when under attack,
and the bitter taste deters predators (Mann 2001b). Sometimes an essential oil component can reduce the growth, or maturation, of an insect that is eating the plant.
Grasshoppers eating Cyperus iria become sterile. Tenulin (a sesquiterpene lactone)
in Helenium amarum disrupts the growth and development of insect larvae (Mann
2001b). Many animals find the aroma (and taste) of essential oil components repellent and will not eat aromatic plants. Voles (a small rodent common in Europe)
will not eat pine needles. However, there are exceptions. Australian possums and
SECTION I | Overview
kangaroos are two mammals that have adapted to live off a diet of Eucalyptus leaves.
I saw this personally when I visited Australia in 2013.
Certain plants exude aromas that deter insects. The Lamiaceae family has two
well-known plants, pennyroyal and peppermint, that deter insects. The mosquito
that carries yellow fever is repelled by mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris). Clinical studies
found that mosquitoes carrying malaria or Dengue fever are repelled by Artemisia
annua (Sharma et al 2014).
Other essential oils are thought to increase pollination by attracting insects.
Many chemical compounds found in the odor glands of insects are also found in
flower fragrances. Usually it is a mixture of compounds that generates the aroma
the insect is seeking. Each part of the fragrant area of the plant may present a different volatile profile. The rose, for example, produces different aromas in its petals
than in the sepals and stamens. Odor is thought to be more important to a pollinating insect than color. This is obvious with night-flying creatures as some flowers are
pollinated by bats or moths. Insects can discern a scent at 1/100 the level compared
with a human. Floral fragrances such as monoterpenes are important insect attractants. Some plants, such as Datura innoxia, produce a narcotic, so the hawkmoth
becomes addicted and returns regularly for “fixes” (Mann 2001a). Insects live in a
world where actions are triggered by smell, rather than noise or light.
Plants may produce secondary metabolites to protect them from bacteria,
viruses and fungi. Plants respond to attack by producing stress metabolites called
phytoalexins. Some synthetically produced phytoalexins are now used to protect
crops from parasites (Holscher et al 2014).
Allelopathy is the ability of a plant to prevent other plants from growing too close
to it. Bracken and ferns leach germinating inhibitors (usually phenols) into the
ground to deter other species from germinating or growing too close. Aromatic
plants can use essential oils such as camphor to protect the land around them
from other plants. Terpenes are the largest group of chemical components found
in aromatic plants, and many terpenes can inhibit the respiration of other plants
(Mann 2001b). The sage bush (Salvia leucophylla), which is prolific in the neardesert terrain of southern California, contains chemical compounds 1,8-cineole
and camphor that deter other plants from germinating.
One of the other ideas suggested or why plants make essential oils is their
antitranspirant activity. Essential oils aid survival in difficult climatic conditions
when a haze of volatile oils may influence stomatal closure, and thus prevents
excess water loss from the leaves.
Quality of Essential Oils
There are many factors that can affect the quality of an essential oil (Box 3-1). The
chemical make-up of all living plants depends on climate and environmental conditions (such as rainfall, sunlight, soil acidity, altitude and pollution) (Guenther
1972). The chemistry of the same species of rose grown in Bulgaria will be subtly
CHAPTER 3 | Basic Plant Taxonomy, Basic Essential Oil Chemistry
BOX 3-1 Factors Affecting Quality of Essential Oil
Age of plant
Length of time essential oil is distilled
Number of times essential oil is distilled
Soil type
Temperature at which essential oil is distilled
Time of harvest (including both time of year and time of day)
of fertilizers and pesticides
different from the same one grown in England. Similarly, Lavandula angustifolia
grown high in the mountains will contain more esters, which are thought to have a
greater antispasmodic effect, than Lavandula angustifolia grown closer to sea level.
If Lavandula angustifolia is distilled at a high altitude this will also increase the
amount of esters. Lavandula angustifolia essential oil with a higher percentage of
esters will have an aroma that is softer and fruitier. There are so many variables that
the simplest way to be sure of the composition of the essential oil is to use modern
analytical methods as well as the nose.
Analysis Tests for Purity in Essential Oils
There are several methods that are used to analyze the composition of an essential oil: the most frequently used is gas chromatography (GC). Other important
analytical methods include high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) and
nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) (Tisserand & Young 2013).
Gas Chromatography
GC is a technique to separate the individual components in the essential oil (e.g.,
α-pinene, β-myrcene and linalyl acetate). The instrument is linked to a detector,
most often a flame ionization detector (FID) or a mass spectrometer (MS). The
individual constituents are shown in a computerized printout as a succession of
peaks, and the peak size can be correlated to the amount of the constituent in the oil.
The lighter molecules will show up first. The MS detector can be used to identify the
peaks based on a comparison of the mass spectrum with data from a library. This is
particularly useful for the detection and identification of pesticides. Although using
a GC/MS will allow identifying and quantifying most of the chemical components,
it may not always identify synthetic chemicals that have been added to extend, or
alter the essential oil. Two-dimensional gas chromatographs (GC × GC) can show
which way molecules rotate (Tisserand & Young 2013). This can help detect synthetic additives.
SECTION I | Overview
HPLC is another separation technique, which can be used to analyze a much wider
range of components, including nonvolatile molecules which cannot be analyzed
by GC. HPLC is most often connected to an ultraviolet/visible (UV/Vis) detector, but MS detectors have become more and more popular due to the additional
information that can be obtained.
The NMR is a high-end technique that is mainly used to determine the structure
of pure compounds, but can also be used to get a view of the totality of the essential oil (fingerprint). Comparing such NMR fingerprints to fingerprints of authentic essential oils by statistical means can be a good way to detect adulteration
of essential oils.
Optical Rotation
Molecules within essential oils have the ability to rotate a plane of polarized light.
Molecules that rotate counterclockwise are called levorotatory, or l for short.
Those that rotate clockwise are called dextrorotatory, or d. This ability is indicated
in the name of the molecule, for example, d-limonene. Almost all essential oils
show optical activity. Optical rotation can reveal synthetic compounds that alter
the optical rotation. Synthetic menthol rotates in a different way to menthol from
the mint plant (Stewart 2005).
Refractive Index
When light passes through a liquid it is refracted. This refraction can be measured
and is consistent for a given essential oil. In scientific terms, it is the ratio of the
speed of light of a given frequency in a vacuum to the speed of light in a medium of
some kind, at a specified temperature. It is important that the test be carried out at
the same temperature as the reference (the standard).
Infrared Spectroscopy
When infrared light is passed through an essential oil it produces a spectrum that is
like the fingerprint of the essential oil. Similar to NMR, a comparison of the fingerprint to authentic materials will help to detect adulteration of the oil.
The Nose (Organoleptic Evaluation)
This is an underestimated but important part of analysis. When you first start you
may find it hard to notice differences between synthetic and real essential oils, or
pure and adulterated ones. However, with patience the nose does learn. Never smell
directly from the bottle. Put one or two drops on to a special smell strip (made from
paper a little like blotting paper). Recap the bottle. Hold the smell strip approximately 6 inches in front of your face. The sense of smell may be different from one
nostril to the other as the aroma reaches different parts in the brain, so move the
CHAPTER 3 | Basic Plant Taxonomy, Basic Essential Oil Chemistry
strip back and forth several times. One nostril may detect a sweeter smell than the
other. Close your eyes and concentrate. Rate the aroma on a scale of 0 to 10: when
0 means you dislike the odor intensely, and 10 means the odor is very pleasant.
Write down a word that describes the aroma. When testing essential oils from an
unknown source, first try one known to be authentic to “fix” the smell imprint in
your brain. Then try the new one. Also, since the sense of smell adapts quickly to
an odor, care should be taken to allow for sufficient time in between smelling consecutive samples in order to avoid olfactory fatigue. The trained human nose plays
an important role in analysis. If your nose says the oil doesn’t smell quite right, pay
Essential oils can be purchased in a great many places, as well as online. Just
remember that essential oils are easy to dilute or adulterate, and if the price sounds
too good to be true, it probably is. The most common method of dilution is by
adding vegetable oil or alcohol. The most common adulteration is adding a small
amount of a cheaper oil, for example, adding geranium to rose, or petitgrain to
neroli. Real melissa oil is very difficult to find, because it is frequently adulterated
with lemongrass or citral. Sometimes particular components are added, such as
citronella, geraniol, or linalool. Sometimes individual components are mixed in
a test tube and the result is labeled “natural essential oil.” Several countries can
produce the same essential oil but they may be of varying quality. For example,
rose is grown (and distilled) in France, Bulgaria, Turkey, China, and Morocco.
Some essential oils may not be suitable for clinical use because they have been
grown with pesticides.
If essential oils are being used clinically, they should be from a reputable supplier who can state the following: country of origin, botanical name, part of the
plant, wild-crafted or organic, method of extraction, batch number, expiry date
and the chemotype (when relevant). Reputable suppliers are happy to provide gaschromatography/mass spectrometry (GCMS) information and material safety data
sheets (MSDS).
Bottles should contain integral droppers and be made of colored glass. “Pure
100 percent essential oil” should be clearly marked. Basic safety precautions such as
“do not take by mouth,” “keep away from children,” and “avoid contact with eyes”
should be on the label. Apart from the product description, label and price, use your
common sense and your nose. Long established, reputable companies would lose
too much by compromising themselves on quality and are usually proud they can
prove the authenticity of their oils. I have used the same small group of companies
for 20 years. They are listed at the back of the book and also on www.rjbuckle.com.
I have never sold essential oils. I do not have my own brand (although I have been
asked to create one many times) so I can be completely independent. I dislike the
cult-like behavior that some multilevel marketing seems to produce.
SECTION I | Overview
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Cambray-Smith I. 2013. Essential Chemistry. Natural Science Course Notes.
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Gafner S. 2014. Personal communication.
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Holscher D, Dhakshinamoorthy S, Alexandrov T, Becker M, Bretschneider T et al. 2014. Phenalenonetype phytoalexins mediate resistance of banana plants (Musa spp.) to the burrowing nematode Radopholus similis. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 11(1):105-10.
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Pichersky E, Gershenzon J. 2002. The formation and function of plant volatiles: perfumes for pollinator
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Poucher W. 1993. Poucher’s Perfumes, Cosmetics and Soaps, Vol 2, 9th ed. Chapman & Hall.
Sharma G, Kapoor H, Chopra M, Kumar K, Agrawal V. 2014. Strong larvicidal potential of Artemisia
annua leaf extract against malaria (Anopheles stephensi Liston) and dengue (Aedes aegypti L.) vectors
and bioassay-driven isolation of the marker compound. Parasitol Res. 113(1):197-209.
Taiz L, Zeiger E. 2014. Plant Physiology Onlone. 5th edition. Accessed 7/2/2014. http://5e.plantphys.net/
Teixeiry M, Rodriquez O, Gomez P, Mata V, Rodriges B. 2013. Design of Perfumes. in Perfume Engineering:
Design, Performance & Classification. Butterworth Heinemann.
Tisserand R, Young R. 2013. Essential Oil Safety. 2nd ed. London: Churchill Livingstone.
Svoboda K, Svoboda T. 2001. Secretory Structures of Aromatic and Medicinal Plants. Wales, UK:
Microscopix Publications.
Vagi E, Simandi B, Suhajda A, Hethely E. 2005. Essential oil composition and antimicrobial activity of
Origanum majorana L. extracts obtained with ethyl alcohol and supercritical carbon dioxide. Food
Research International. 38(1):51-57.
von Leeuwenhoek A. 1679. In Medicine Quest by Plotkin M. 2000. Viking.
Yang Z, Sakai M, Sayama H, Shimeno T, Yamaguchi K et al. 2009. Elucidation of the biochemical pathway of 2-phenylethanol from shikimic acid using isolated protoplasts of rose flowers. J Plant Physiology. 166(8):887-891
Essential Oil Toxicity and
“The difference between a deadly poison and a lifesaving medicine can be very small;
in fact, it is sometimes merely a question of dosage.”
Dr. Richard Evans Schultes, 1980
TABLE 4-1 | Reported Cases of Overdose with Common Essential Oils, 79
TABLE 4-2 | Potentially Lethal Oral Doses of Essential Oil for a Child Under 6 Years, 83
TABLE 4-3 | Examples of Commonly Used Essential Oils to Avoid in Patients with Epilepsy
(in Alphabetical Order), 87
TABLE 4-4 | Selection of Common Essential Oils to Avoid During Pregnancy, 88
TABLE 4-5 | Essential Oils Thought to Have Mild Estrogenic Activity that Might Be Best
Avoided in Some Estrogen-Dependent Tumors, 89
TABLE 4-6 | Essential Oils to Avoid with Hypertension, 89
ust because essential oils are natural does not mean they do not have potential
risks, or hazards if used inappropriately. This chapter addresses toxicity and contraindications. Put in context, essential oils, as used in aromatherapy, are extremely
safe and carry few of the risks of many modern medicines. However, it is pertinent to the increasingly high profile of aromatherapy that those using essential
oils clinically should be aware of their potential toxicity, possible side effects, and
interactions. This chapter is a short synopsis of an extensive subject. The author
is extremely grateful for reference to the second edition of Essential Oil Safety
(Tisserand & Young 2013) and strongly recommends this for further reading.
This chapter is divided into two parts: Part 1: Essential Oil Toxicity and
This covers dermal toxicity, skin irritants, allergens, phototoxins, chemical
burns. Oral toxicity, nephrotoxins, neurotoxins, hepatotoxins, psychotropics, measuring toxicity. Inhaled toxicity.
SECTION I | Overview
Part 2: Contraindications and Safety
This covers possible drug interactions, essential oils to avoid in epilepsy, pregnancy, oncology. General contraindications and general safety rules.
Toxicity is defined as the amount or degree of a substance needed to be poisonous (Brooker 2008). Toxicity is dependent on the amount and concentration used,
frequency of use, interactions of the person receiving the substance, and individual
reaction of the person (Dybing et al 2002; Tisserand & Young 2013). Toxicity can be
systemic or local. It can be reversible or nonreversible. It can be acute, subacute, or
subchronic. Systemic toxicity means toxicity at a cell level that causes the organ to fail
with the possible death of the organism. Local toxicity means the organ responsible
for absorption and elimination may be severely affected, for example, stomach, liver,
skin, lungs, or kidney. The effects may be reversible (when the toxic agent has been
removed) or irreversible. The effects may also be acute, subacute, or subchronic.
Toxicology is the study of harmful interactions between xenobiotics and living
systems. Xenobiotics are substances, such as drugs, that are foreign to the human
body (Brooker 2008) or to an ecological system (Oxford English Dictionary 2005).
For the purpose of this chapter, xenobiotics are the chemical constituents found in
essential oils that have a negative effect on humans. Toxicology covers areas such
a dermal toxicity and skin irritants, allergens, phototoxins, and chemical burns. It
also covers nephrotoxins, hepatotoxins, neurotoxins, and psychotropics.
Essential Oils are Complex Compounds
Because essential oils are made up of many different chemical compounds, it is more
difficult to extrapolate their toxicity from data of one of the supposed toxic compounds. When mixtures or blends of essential oils are used, this complicates matters
even further because mixed components can interact to produce an additive, synergistic, or antagonistic effect. For example, citral is found in several essential oils. If
two essential oils containing citral were added together, the concentration of citral
would double, and thus double the possibility of a skin sensitivity reaction (Tisserand & Young 2013). Some essential oil components appear to have a synergistic
reaction. This is when the effect of the sum of the components is greater than the
effect of a single component. Itani et al (2008) found that combining three components (linalyl acetate, terpineo, and camphor) from Lebanese sage (Salvia fruticosa
or Salvia libanotica) caused synergistic inhibition of the growth of two human colon
cancer cell lines. Individually, the components did not have that effect. Sometimes
there is an antagonistic effect when one component appears to “quench” the negative effect of another. For example, d-limonene and eugenol had a “quenching”
effect on cinnamaldehyde contact sensitization in human studies (Guin et al 1984).
CHAPTER 4 | Essential Oil Toxicity and Contraindications
The wide range and complexity of components in essential oils suggests that nature
is offering a “balanced menu,” so the receiver can take the parts of the meal the
body needs and leave the rest. This may be why the effect of an isolated ingredient
can be much stronger: it is no longer part of the “balanced menu.”
Essential oils have been in the public domain for over a hundred years. They
are traded globally and, in 2013, the market trade was worth over $1000 million
(Williamson 2013). Essential oils are used in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, food, beverages, cleaning materials, and in the perfume industry. Approximately 400 essential
oils are in use (Tisserand & Young 2013). Of these, approximately 100 essential
oils are used regularly in aromatherapy. The number of toxicity problems reported
is very small, leading to the conclusion that most essential oils are safe. This may
change as essential oils become more easily obtainable and people push the boundaries and become more adventurous with dilutions and applications.
Different Approaches
There is a certain amount of controversy about the potential toxicity of essential
oils. Some aromatherapists feel essential oils should never be taken orally. Some
people take essential oils orally or recommend their oral use and see no problem.
Some use essential oils every day: others feel using an essential oil for longer than
3 weeks could lead to liver damage. A person’s point of view is usually based on
their background and training.
The British approach to aromatherapy has focused (until recently) on using
diluted essential oils (up to 5%) applied to the skin, usually in a massage. An aromatherapy massage is solely intended to improve relaxation and help stress management. There are no reports of toxic effects from using essential oils in this way.
Recently, aromasticks have become an attractive alternative to topical use, particularly in cancer care. Please see Chapter 2, How Essential Oils Work: Applications.
The French approach to aromatherapy may use several milliliters of undiluted
essential oil on the skin at a time, sometimes several times a day—usually to combat an infection. Physicians may also give gelatin capsules (each containing three
or four drops of essential oils, diluted in a carrier oil or gel) to be taken orally,
three or four times a day. In France, essential oils are used to treat infection, or a
chronic condition, and are rarely used just for relaxation. There is more chance of
toxicity from the oral route, although there have been virtually no cases recorded.
The majority of French physicians who use essential oils in this way are working
alongside bacteriologists and pharmacists and are well aware of toxicity issues. A
potential toxicity hazard could occur when untrained people use essential oils orally
and ingest too much.
Some aromatherapists (including myself) are trained in both British and
French approaches to aromatherapy. Clearly there is a place for both. However,
each approach is relevant to the experience, training, and expectations of the person
using the essential oils. The oral use of essential oils can be seen as using them as
SECTION I | Overview
medicines. This is outside the remit of many health professionals in many countries, including the United States. Using essential oils orally increases the possibility
of overdosing and the risk of a toxic reaction. “Virtually all cases of serious poisoning from essential oils are the consequence of oral ingestion of an undiluted oil in
amounts much higher than the therapeutic dose” (Tisserand & Young 2013, p. 25).
However, there is a place for the oral use of certain essential oils in certain circumstances. Recent research indicates that drug companies are looking at this emerging
market with increasing interest (Kasper et al 2014).
Because essential oils are often applied to the skin (albeit usually diluted), it is
important to know about adverse skin reactions. Tisserand & Young (2013) write
that when there are no established recommendations, diluted essential oils are safe
to use on the skin. So far, there has not been a recorded fatality from the topical
absorption of essential oils. However, there are adverse skin reactions that can be
caused by skin irritants or allergens within an essential oil, or a combined reaction
of phototoxins and sunlight. (Patch testing to avoid skin irritation or sensitivity is
covered in Chapter 4.)
Skin Irritants
Essential oils are complex mixtures of chemical compounds, any of which (singly
or together) may irritate the skin. Primary irritation (contact dermatitis) occurs
rapidly the first time an essential oil is used, manifesting as a red wheal or burn.
Primary irritation is more likely to occur when essential oils are used that contain large amounts of phenols, e.g., carvacrol and thymol, or aromatic aldehydes,
e.g., cinnamaldehyde. Examples are oregano (Origanum vulgare), thyme (Thymus
vulgaris CT thymol), and cinnamon bark (Cinnamomum verum). Cinnamon bark
oil caused burning (Sparks 1985) and blistering (Perry et al 1990). Cinnamaldehyde is a dose-dependent skin irritant and sensitizer (Decapite & Anderson 2004;
Tisserand & Young 2013). Skin reaction is usually limited to the area where the
essential oil is applied. Immediate dilution with a vegetable oil or milk (to dilute the
essential oil) is required, followed by washing with warm water and nonperfumed
soap. This kind of instant irritation is more likely to occur with concentrations
above 5% and/or on abraded skin. Guba (2000) suggests using 90% nonirritant
essential oil with 10% phenolic oil if high concentrations or undiluted essential oils
are required. There has only been one recorded instance of anaphylactic shock. This
followed the topical application of cinnamaldehyde (Diba & Statham 2003).
Skin Allergens
Allergic contact dermatitis (ACD) is a clinical response to delayed hypersensitivity,
and occurs when an essential oil containing allergens is used over a period of time.
Symptoms are a bright red rash. ACD can also sometimes occur from an inhaled
or ingested essential oil (Salam & Fowler 2001; Trattner & David 2003). Sometimes
CHAPTER 4 | Essential Oil Toxicity and Contraindications
ACD includes pigmentation of skin—usually Asian skin (Yu et al 2007). Examples
of essential oils that can cause skin sensitivity include melissa (Melissa officinalis)
and lemon verbena (Aloysia citriodora) where the maximum recommended concentration for dermal application is 0.9% (Tisserand & Young 2013). Sensitivity can
build up to any essential oil. It is encouraging that despite the popularity of lavender
(Lavandula angustifolia) and Lavandin (Lavandula × intermedia), there have been
very few reported incidences of sensitivities. However, this may only be a question
of time. Juniper took 25 years to produce sensitivity in the case of a lady who sold
food smoked and spiced in juniper oils. Eventually she developed a dry cough and
asthma. Skin tests showed sensitivity to juniper, although it was not established
whether the wood resin or the berries were to blame (Roethe et al 1973).
A florist who presented with an allergic reaction to Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) was found to have a prior sensitivity to chamomile herbal teas and
ointments (Van Ketel 1982). Another florist, with dermatitis of the face for 1 year,
was found to be allergic to the sesquiterpenes in German chamomile (Matricaria
chamomilla) (Van Ketel 1987). I have found that patients taking multiple medications are more prone to essential oil sensitivities, especially those patients who also
have an allergy-like illness such as asthma, eczema, or hay fever.
Photosensitization is a reaction between a phototoxin in an essential oil that is
applied to the skin in the presence of sunlight or ultraviolet A (UVA) light (this
includes sun beds). Furanocoumarins (FCs) are phototoxins. They occur mainly
in expressed citrus peel oils, although they are also found in angelica root (Angelica
archangelica), rue (Ruta graveolens), parsley leaf (Petroselinum crispum), and marigold (Tagetes minuta) essential oils. FCs are not found in distilled citrus peel oils.
The most common FCs are bergapten and psoralen. When an essential oil containing FCs is applied to the skin and the skin is exposed to UVA light, an inflammatory skin reaction occurs. Reactions can vary from pigmentation, blistering, to
severe full-thickness burns. Some foods such as parsnips, celery, and grapefruit
juice contain FCs. Consuming large amounts of these can increase total FC load
and thus the phototoxic effect of essential oils containing FCs (Tisserand & Young
2013). There is no risk of photosensitization if the skin is covered to prevent exposure to UVA light for at least 2 hours (Dubertret et al 1990) or preferably 8 hours
(Tisserand & Young 2013). There is no photosensitivity risk if furanocoumarin-free
(FCF) essential oils are used. Deterpenated citrus oils (often used in the perfume industry) contain disproportionately higher concentrations of FCs and are best avoided.
Chemical Burns
Parys (1983) reported on undiluted peppermint oil inadvertently spilled on skin
that had already been traumatized by skin grafts. The area necrosed and required
excision and further surgery. Multiple chemical burns to the entire oral cavity,
pharynx, and soft palate occurred when a 49-year-old woman ingested 40 drops of
undiluted peppermint to treat a cold. She also had respiratory stridor, tachycardia
SECTION I | Overview
(132 beats/min) and required emergency nasal intubation. Intravenous (IV) steroids and antibiotics were given and she survived (Tamir et al 2005).
Skin reactions are dose-dependent on the dilution of essential oils. Although I agree
mostly with Tisserand & Young (2013), I think the maximum dermal application of
certain essential oils could be higher in specific limited instances. For example, their
suggested limit of 15% for the dermal application of tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia)
could be higher for spider bites, warts, nail fungus, and herpes. Having said that,
tea tree is now used in so many proprietary products that sensitization may become
a problem if undiluted tea tree is used repeatedly over time. There have already
been several cases of skin allergy from using undiluted tea tree. However, for the
specific limited examples listed above, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.
The European Union (EU) labeling for allergens lists 16 essential oil components.
However, the possibility of reaction is very low—ranging from 0.03% (benzyl benzoate) to 1.15% (cinnamaldehyde)—and the data supporting it is questionable
(Tisserand & Young 2013).
Symptoms of oral poisoning can occur rapidly and include a burning sensation
in the mouth and throat, abdominal pain, and spontaneous vomiting, although
the latter may be delayed by up to 4 hours. “Death from essential oils is slow —
15 minutes — 3 days” (Tisserand & Young 2013, p. 26). Dangerous respiratory
depression also can occur with deep coma. Convulsions may occur in children but
are rare in adults. The dose range within which an essential oil becomes lethal is
wide. For example, the safe dose for internal use of eucalyptus is 0.006 to 0.2 mL
(Martindale 1977). Death in adults has occurred after ingestion of as little as 4 to 5
mL (MacPherson 1925). However, some people have recovered after ingesting up
to 220 mL of eucalyptus essential oil with emergency medical intervention (Gurr
& Scroggie 1965).
There are very few known cases of essential oils adversely affecting the urinary
system, and these are all in cases of oral overdose. Overdoses of wintergreen
(Gaultheria fragrantissima), wormseed oil (Chenopodium ambrosioides), and pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium) have caused nephrotoxicity (Table 4-1). Kidney damage showed in the autopsies of children who had mistakenly been given wintergreen
or wormseed oil (Kloss & Boeckmans 1967; Opdyke 1976, p. 713-715). The kidney tubules of a woman were destroyed after ingesting pennyroyal and she died
­(Vallance 1955). Renal failure after ingesting 10 mL of wormseed oil caused hospitalization of a 31-year-old man. The man had been looking at the liqueur absinthe
on the internet and discovered that wormseed oil was an ingredient. He purchased
wormseed oil electronically from a commercial provider of essential oils used in
(mL or Drops)
Cinnamomum verum
60 mL
Dizziness, double vision, nausea, vomiting, collapse.
Pilapil 1989
15 mL
Mant 1961
Temple et al 1991
Cymbopogon nardus
Syzygium aromaticum
25 mL
5 mL
5-10 mL
10 mL
8 mL
(cineole-rich species)
5 mL
12-month-old girl: vomiting, shock, frothing at the mouth, deep rapid
respiration, cyanosis, convulsions, brain hemorrhage. Died.
16-month-old boy: gastric lavage. Survived.
7-month-old child: severe acidosis, central nervous system depression,
ketones in urine; gastric lavage. Survived.
2-year-old boy: clove plus paracetamol; acidosis, deteriorating liver function, extremely low blood glucose, generalized seizure, deep coma; given
heparin; conscious after 6 days. Survived.
15-month-old boy: liver failure; given intravenous injection of N-acetylcysteine; liver function returned within 4 days. Survived.
32-year-old woman: self-injected intravenously; acute respiratory distress,
noncardiogenic pulmonary oedema; abnormal chest X-ray; medical intervention for 7 days. Survived.
3-month-old girl: fulminant hepatic failure; gastric lavage; intravenous
injection of N-acetylcysteine. Survived.
Vertigo, loss of coordination, abnormal respiration, epigastric pain,
cold sweats.
Lesser amounts = excess respiratory tract mucus; greater amounts =
decreased respiratory tract mucus, pinpoint pupils, rapid drowsiness,
109 children (mean age 23 months) over 10 years; gastric lavage,
naso-gastric charcoal and medical intervention. All survived.
Essential Oil
Lane et al 1991
Hartnoll et al 1993
Janes et al 2005
Kirsch et al 1990
Eisen et al 2004
CHAPTER 4 | Essential Oil Toxicity and Contraindications
TABLE 4-1 Reported Cases of Overdose with Common Essential Oils
Craig 1953
Patel & Wiggins 1980
Tibballs 1995
Essential Oil
Hyssopus officinalis
Mentha pulegium
Pinus sylvestris
Dalmation sage
Salvia officinalis
Tea tree
Melaleuca alternifolia
10-20 drops
30 drops
10 drops
10 mL
400-500 mL
7 mL
5 mL
15 mL
10 mL
1 oz
6-year-old boy: convulsions, hospitalized. Survived.
18-year-old girl: unconscious, seizure. Survived.
26-year-old girl: seizure. Survived.
4 case studies including 1 death. Review of 18 cases in adult women with
moderate to severe toxicity. One death.
Suicide attempt; hospitalization; hemoperfusion with activated charcoal
plus Amberlite and hemodialysis. Patient survived.
44-year-old woman took sage for asthma: convulsions, dyspnea, cardiac
failure, death.
33-day-old baby boy: accidentally given sage oil for colic; seizures, nystagmus, hyperreflexia, and irritability; hospitalization; IV diazepam and
midazolam. Survived.
5-year-old girl: given sage oil for colic; seizures; hospitalized; gastric lavage
and active charcoal treatment. Survived.
17-month-old boy: ataxia, drowsiness; recovered within 8 hours.
23-month-old boy.
4-year-old boy: ataxic, non-responsive, intubated. Survived.
O’Mullane et al 1982
O’Mullane et al 1982
Millet et al 1981
Anderson et al 1996
5 mL of wintergreen is equivalent to 22 adult aspirin tablets.
Wintergreen is 98% methyl salicylate.
44-year-old man: seizure; hospitalized. Died 18 hours later.
Koppel et al 1982
Whitling 1908
Halicioglu et al 2011
Halicioglu et al 2011
Del Beccaro 1995
Jacobs & Hornfeldt
Morris et al 2003
Botma et al 2001
Davis 2007
Cauthen & Hester
SECTION I | Overview
(mL or Drops)
TABLE 4-1 Reported Cases of Overdose with Common Essential Oils—cont’d
CHAPTER 4 | Essential Oil Toxicity and Contraindications
aromatherapy, mistakenly thinking he was buying absinthe (Weisbord et al 1997).
He survived. Absinthe is banned in the EU and United States. Tisserand & Young
(2013) suggest caution when using aniseed oil (Pimpinella anisum) orally by people
who are taking diuretics, or who have renal insufficiency. No evidence was found
that juniper (Juniperus communis) caused nephrotoxicity.
Liver damage caused by essential oils (or their components) in humans is rare. However, the liver is the main organ that detoxifies the body of essential oils and autopsy
results for oral overdose have shown liver damage (Siegel & Wason 1986). Two children who had ingested clove (Syzygium aromaticum) essential oil presented with
deteriorating liver function (Hartnoll et al 1993; Janes et al 2005). Both survived
with medical intervention. Massive hepatic necrosis was part of the clinical picture
of an 18-year-old girl who had swallowed 30 mL of pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium).
She died 6 days later as a result of liver damage. Tisserand & Young (2013) suggest
avoiding the oral use of essential oils that contain β-pulegone in patients who are
taking paracetamol or alcohol regularly because β-pulegone depletes hepatic glutathione. This would include essential oils such as pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium),
buchu (Agathosma betulina), and calamint (Calamintha nepeta).
Coumarin was once thought to be useful in lymphedema following breast cancer. Several studies explored the potential nephrotoxic effect of coumarin (taken
orally over a period of weeks) (Cox et al 1989; Loprinzi et al 1999; Schmeck-­
Lindenau et al 2003; Vanscheidt et al 2002). There were very few incidences of liver
damage. As an example, in the study by Cox et al (1989), 0.37% of 2173 patients
developed liver problems. The authors conclude “this hepatitis was probably a form
of idiosyncratic hepatotoxicity and may have been immune in origin.”
Menthol has caused liver problems in people who are deficient of the enzyme
glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD). This enzyme is involved in the
metabolism of menthol. G6PD deficiency occurs in the blood cells of Africans,
their descendants, those from the Mediterranean region and those from the Middle
East (Brooker 2006). G6PD deficiency is more frequent in men. Usually people
are aware of their condition because they are intolerant to aspirin and antimalarial
drugs. (They are also intolerant to henna.) Jaundice-like symptoms have also been
seen after oral administration of estragole and isosafrole (Tisserand & Young 2013).
Neurotoxins cause reversible or irreversible effects on behavior, cognitive, functional, and motor coordination. Wormseed (Chenopodium ambrosioides) and wintergreen (Gaultheria fragrantissima) essential oils are known neurotoxins (Kloss &
Boeckmans 1967; Cauthen & Hester 1989). Wormseed oil should never be used in
any application (Tisserand & Young 2013). Eucalyptus has caused seizures in a few
young children who have taken large amounts orally (Craig 1953; Wilkinson 1991).
Pinocamphone, found in hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis) essential oil, has convulsant
effects (O’Mullane et al 1982; Millet et al 1981). Thujone (both α and β) has both
SECTION I | Overview
convulsant and neurotoxic effects in rats (Millet et al 1981). Several essential oils
such as sage (Salvia officinalis), thuja (Thuja occidentalis), and tansy (Tanacetum
vulgare) contain >25% thujone (Tisserand & Young 2013). Camphor is another
essential oil component with potential neurotoxicity (Kopelman et al 1979). The
toxicity of an essential oil depends on the amount of neurotoxic component present
in the essential oil and the method of application. Children and infants are particularly susceptible to neurotoxicity and to convulsants (Tisserand & Young 2013).
Craig (1953) discusses the case of a 3-year-old who consumed 10 mL of eucalyptus (two teaspoons). The child became deeply unconscious; his pupils constricted, muscle tone was markedly reduced, and there were no tendon reflexes. His
breathing was shallow and irregular at a rate of 10 breaths per minute. Insertion
of an endotracheal tube produced no gag reflex. His pulse was 70 beats per minute, and blood pressure was 75/40 mm Hg. The child’s serum urea was 6.3 μmol/L
(38 mg/100 mL) with normal electrolytes. He was given gastric lavage with sodium
bicarbonate solution. Sodium sulfate (100 mL) was administered as a cathartic.
After 2 hours, his pulse, blood pressure, and respiration were normal. He was discharged from hospital after 48 hours.
Wilkinson (1991) discusses the toxic effect of ingested essential oils on three
children admitted to an emergency room in Australia. Their ages were 19 months,
23 months, and 25 months. The 19-month-old infant ingested an indeterminate
amount of lavender. The type of lavender was not specified, but the chemistry of
Lavandula angustifolia, Lavandula latifolia, and Lavandula stoechas are very different
and therefore their toxicities are different. L. stoechas, which contains ketones, would
be more toxic than L. angustifolia, which contains mainly linalyl acetate or linalool.
The 25-month-old child took an unknown amount of tea tree oil, and the 23-monthold child ingested 40 mL of eucalyptus oil. All three children were ataxic. All three
were anesthetized and given gastric lavage, and two were intubated. Charcoal was
given in all cases and sorbitol in one. All three children recovered fully in the hospital.
Lethal doses of essential oils for children under 6 years are given in Table 4-2.
Psychotropic Activity
A psychotropic effect is a substance that exerts a specific effect on the brain
(Brooker 2008). Nutmeg (Myristica fragrans) essential oil has psychotropic
effects. The psychotropic effects are attributed to the presence of myristicin.
Nutmeg had demonstrable anticonvulsant effect in animal models and the
authors suggest it “may be effective against grand mal and partial seizures”
(Wahab et al 2009). Inhaled nutmeg oil also reduced locomotion in mice
by <60% (Muchtaridi et al 2010).
Essential Oils Used in Suppositories
The European Medicines Agency state there is a risk of neurological disorders, especially convulsions, in infants and small children under 30 months old with the use
of suppositories containing essential oils. Therefore, their use is contraindicated
within EU countries (Kolassa 2013).
CHAPTER 4 | Essential Oil Toxicity and Contraindications
TABLE 4-2 Potentially Lethal Oral Doses of Essential Oil for a Child
Under 6 Years
Common Name
Botanical Name
Ocimum basilicum
­(estragole above 55%)
Pimpinella anisum
Syzygium aromaticum
Eucalyptus globulus
Hyssopus officinalis
Mentha longifolia
Mentha rotundifolia
Oreganum vulgare
Petroselinum sativum
Mentha pulegium
Salvia officinalis
Satureja hortensis
Tanacetum vulgare
Artemesia dracunculus
Thuja occidentalis
Gaultheria fragrantissima
German spearmint
Egyptian round leaf
Parsley seed oil
Savory, Summer
Oral Lethal Dose for
a Child (mL)
Adapted from Watt M. 1991. Essex, UK: Witham. This book discusses adverse reactions and toxicity in
greater detail. Not all the botanical names are given.
Much of the information available on toxicity is based on animal studies. (This is also
true of conventional drugs.) Most essential oils have had extensive toxicologic studies carried out by the fragrance industry (for inhaled and topically applied essential
oils) and the flavor industry (for ingested essential oils). In animal toxicology studies,
a very large amount of essential oil is given to the test animal in a very short period.
This is totally unlike the human situation where small amounts of essential oils are
given over a longer period. The huge amounts given in animal testing are never given
to humans all at once, nor are such large amounts given during an extended period.
In 2008, 18 pharmaceutical companies petitioned to have animal toxicity studies
removed as a requirement for drug approval (Tisserand & Young 2013) because they
felt that animal toxicity tests had limited relevance to human toxicity.
Oral Lethal Dose
Oral lethal dose is usually tested on laboratory mice or rats. The animals are forcefed essential oils until 50% of them die. The amount the test group has ingested
when death occurs is the median lethal dose, which is known as LD50; this is the
SECTION I | Overview
number of milligrams or grams of essential oil per kilogram of animal body weight
that is required to kill half of the animals.
Dermal Lethal Dose
The LD50 dermal lethal dose is determined via a test on a shaved area of the skin of
animals, usually rabbits. The dose at which 50% of the test subjects die is the dermal
LD50. Human skin is less permeable than rabbit skin. There have been very few
clinical tests on human skin. Those that have been done involved volunteers who
were given a patch test for a 24-hour period (Watt 1991).
Simple math can demonstrate how distant a 5% solution of an essential oil used
as topical application is from a toxic level. If the dermal LD50 of Eucalyptus globulus
is 5 g/kg (actually it is more than 10% according to Kligman), then the following
equations determine toxicity:
An average woman weighs 150 lbs = approximately 75 kg.
5 × 75 = 375 g = approximately 400 mL (allowing for specific gravity).
If the solution is 5%, 8000 mL are required = 8 L.
It is unknown exactly how much of the eucalyptus is absorbed through the
skin—certainly not 100%. Much depends on the skin’s integrity, its temperature,
and whether it is covered after application of the oil. Let us allow for 50% absorption (which is generous). It is impossible for 4 L of essential oil to be absorbed by
the skin all at once. (However, there would be considerable effects from inhaling
the essential oil as well.)
Oral LD50 of Eucalyptus globulus is 2.48 g/kg.
Average woman of 150 lbs = approximately 75 kg.
2.48 × 75 = 186 g = approximately 200 mL (allowing for specific gravity).
Inhaled essential oils are unlikely to produce a toxic reaction. Hypothetically, a
toxic reaction could occur if a person was confined in a nonventilated room, the
temperature was very high, and there was a constant diffusion of essential oil until
the air was saturated. This would be more akin to suffocation than a reaction to
the essential oil. However, the effects of long-term environmental fragrancing with
essential oils is not known and could lead to sensitivity. Some chemotypes of perilla
(Perilla frutescens) contain perilla ketone—a potent lung toxin to animals that may
cause pulmonary toxicity in humans (Tisserand & Young 2013). This is relevant
because perillyl alcohol, another component of perilla (Perilla frutescens), is used
for the treatment of advanced ovarian cancer (Bailey et al 2002). More recent studies have explored the use of inhaling perillyl alcohol for neoplasms of the central
nervous system (Peterson 2014) and to enhance the effect of other anticancer medications in pancreatic cancer (Sarkar et al 2014).
There have been several accidental toxic events in young children when essential oils have been placed inside their nasal cavities (Melis et al 1989; Crandon &
Thompson 2006). This is different from inhaling essential oils.
CHAPTER 4 | Essential Oil Toxicity and Contraindications
This has been a very brief overview of toxicology. Put into context, our world is full
of toxic substances, but this only becomes a problem if exposure to the toxic substance poses a risk. Coffee, bananas, glyoxal, and hydrogen peroxide are potentially
hazardous but we use them in sufficiently small amounts for them not to harm us.
The same applies to essential oils. This is why training in the use of essential oils is
so important. Often the chemical structure of the components within an essential
oil can give a general indication of its potential toxicity (Tisserand & Young 2013).
Keeping essential oils away from children and preventing oral use among those
who mistake essential oils for something else will help prevent more accidents.
Lachenmeier (2012) writes in his response to a report of sage poisoning “We do not
want to belittle the tragedy of such cases if they occur, especially in children because
of the ignorance of their parents. However, overall, these rare and exceptional cases
certainly do not constitute a major public health threat, globally or in any region.”
Finally, it is interesting that anethole (an essential oil component) now plays a role
in forensic toxicology. It is used in blood sampling for suspected alcoholic consumption (Dawidowicz & Dybowski 2014).
Possible Drug Interactions
Some essential oils have the potential to alter the effectiveness of certain drugs
(Tisserand & Young 2013) because they can compete at a plasma, cellular, or
receptor level. This can reduce the drug’s effectiveness, or it could enhance it.
The degree of change depends on the amount of essential oil used, the percentage
strength, and the method of use. Interdrug interactions are frequent (Luna et al
2007; Duke et al 2013; Strasberg et al 2013). Although some interdrug reactions are
known and flagged, individual patients can respond in different ways to the same
dose of the same drug. This variation is related to individual pharmacokinetics:
the rate and extent of absorption, distribution, and elimination of drugs in the
person’s body (Brooker 2008). For more about pharmacokinetics, see Chapter 2.
In the same way, a patient may respond to a drug–essential oil combination
Cytochrome P450
Certain essential oils and their components induce and/or inhibit cytochrome P450
enzymes. This family of liver enzymes is important in the oxidation and clearance
of lipid-soluble drugs by making them more water-soluble, so they can be safely
excreted via the kidneys (Brooker 2008). In vitro data showed that high amounts of
citral and geraniol strongly inhibited CYP2B6 hydroxylase activity in a competitive
manner, and this might interact with drugs that are metabolized by CYP2B6 (Seo
et al 2008). Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus), lemon myrtle (Backhousia citriodora), and lemon-scented tea tree (Leptospermum petersonii) are examples of essential oils high in citral. Palmarosa (Cymbopogon martini) is high in geraniol (<85%).
SECTION I | Overview
German chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla) and its major component, chamazulene, were found to be major inhibitors of CYP1A2, another of the human cytochrome P450 enzymes (Ganzara et al 2006). Chamazulene (up to 35%) is also found
in blue tansy (Tanacetum annum) and (up to 19%) in yarrow (Achillea millefolium).
This is a small selection that suggests the oral use of essential oils has the potential
to affect cytochrome P450 in certain circumstances.
Platelet Aggregation
Some essential oils and their components inhibit blood clotting and could increase
the activity of warfarin, heparin, or aspirin. The strong platelet activating factor (PAF)
antagonistic activity of some oils is related to their high content of sesquiterpenes
and sesquiterpenoids (Moharam et al 2010). Star anise (Illicium verum), holy basil
(Ocimum tenuiflorum), sweet fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), and oregano (Origanum
vulgare) are a few examples of essential oils that affect PAF (Tsai et al 2007). Animal studies show that fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) essential oil, and its main component, anethole, has antithrombotic activity and broad-spectrum antiplatelet activity
(Tognolini et al 2007). Lavandin (Lavandula × hybrida CT grosso) was found to have
antiplatelet activity in animal studies (Ballabeni et al 2004). However, 100 mg/kg/day
orally for 5 days was required to significantly reduce the thrombotic events.
Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors
Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) are a group of antidepressant drugs that
inhibit the action of monoamine oxidase (Brooker 2008). Monoamine oxidase is an
enzyme that breaks down neurotransmitters such as adrenaline, dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin.
Oral doses of essential oils increase the potential for an essential oil to have an
effect on MAOIs (Tisserand & Young 2013). Eugenol inhibits monoamine oxidase
A (MAOA) and there is a potential link between the antidepressant activity of eugenol and its MAOA inhibitory activity (Tao et al 2005). Large amounts (>50%) of
eugenol are found in the essential oils from bud, leaf, and stem of clove (Syzygium
aromaticum) and from cinnamon leaf (Cinnamomum verum). Therefore, these
essential oils could affect MAOIs if taken orally.
Antidiabetic Effects
Korean research found lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) essential oil given orally to
mice for 6 weeks significantly reduced their blood glucose (65%; p < 0.05) (Chung
et al 2010). Chinese cinnamon (Cinnamomum cassia) had a regulative role in the
blood glucose level and lipids of mice, and improved the function of pancreatic
islets (Ping et al 2010). Tunisian research found that fenugreek (Trigonella foenumgraecum) essential oil considerably inhibited key enzymes that were related to diabetes, such as α-amylase activity (by 46% and 52%) and maltase activity (by 37% and
35%) in the pancreas and plasma of rats (Hamden et al 2011). In an Indian study,
turmeric (Curcuma longa) essential oil inhibited glucosidase enzymes more effectively than the reference standard drug acarbose, which is used in type 2 diabetes
CHAPTER 4 | Essential Oil Toxicity and Contraindications
(Lekshmi et al 2012). Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens) essential oil was found to
have a significantly better (p < 0.05) hypoglycemic effect at the dose of 150 mg/kg
body weight than the standard diabetic drug glibenclamide (Boukhris et al 2012).
This is just a small selection of research studies that suggest that the oral use of certain essential oils on a regular basis might interfere with diabetic drugs in humans.
When aniseed (Pimpinella anisum) was added to the drinking water of rats,
it reduced the volume of the urine produced and increased the activity of renal
Na+-K+ ATPase even at extremely low concentrations (Kreydiyyeh et al 2003).
Enhancing Drug Delivery/Absorption
Some essential oils, and the isolated components from essential oils (such as
nerolidol, limonene, cineole, pinene, and carvone), are used to enhance drug delivery
(Krishnaiah et al 2006; Krishnaiah et al 2008; Ahad et al 2011; Valgimigli et al 2012;
Shen et al 2013). Essential oil components appear to enhance drug absorption by interacting with the polar domain of the skin lipids (Chen et al 2013). Some components,
such as carvone, can also reverse the permeation enhancement effect so that vital skin
barrier function is restored and not permanently changed after the application of dermal enhancers (Kang et al 2007; Aggarwal et al 2012). Some components enhance the
permeation of other components; for example, limonene enhances the absorption of
citronellol and eugenol (Schmitt et al 2009) via the skin. Therefore, it is recommended
that essential oils are not used on the skin close to conventional drug patch therapy.
Some essential oils, when taken orally, can cause convulsions. Therefore, it is sensible to avoid those essential oils in people who are vulnerable to epileptic fits. Please
see Table 4-3. (For a more extensive list, please see Tisserand & Young 2013.) Personally, I would avoid using hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis CT pinocamphone), fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), peppermint (Mentha piperita), and rosemary (Rosmarinus
officinalis), although there is no published report of any of these triggering a seizure.
I would also ask people who are prone to fitting episodes what smells they disliked!
TABLE 4-3 Examples of Commonly Used Essential Oils to Avoid in Patients
with Epilepsy (in Alphabetical Order)
Betula Lenta
Spanish lavender
Mentha pulegium
Rosmarinus officinalis CT verbenone
Lavandula stoechas
Tanacetum vulgare
Achillea millefolium
Gaultheria fragrantissima
SECTION I | Overview
Essential oils should not be used in pregnancy (or breastfeeding) if they contain
large amounts (above 40%) of the following components: (E)-anethole, apiol,
β-eudesmol, camphor, methyl salicylate, pinocamphone, or thujone (Tisserand &
Young 2013) (Table 4-4). Of the more commonly used essential oils, this would
rule out: aniseed (Pimpinella anisum), star anise (Illicium verum), cypress (Cupressus sempervirens), dill (Anethum graveolens), fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), hyssop
(Hyssopus officinalis), and Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoechas). For a more inclusive list, please see Tisserand & Young (2013). Although there has been much hype
surrounding pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium) as an abortifacient, Tisserand & Young
(2013, p 383) state that it is not an abortifacient “unless taken in such massive
quantities that it causes acute hepatotoxicity in the mother.” There have been no
recorded instances of pennyroyal toxicity following dermal application. Pregnancy
should be a time to enjoy aromatherapy. Using essential oils to combat nausea in
early pregnancy, to help relaxation during labor, or having an aromatic bath at the
end of the day are some safe suggestions. Please see Chapter 20 on Women’s Health.
Hormone Replacement Therapy
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is not adversely affected by aromatherapy
because any hormonal effect of the essential oil would be considerably weaker than
the effect of the HRT (Tisserand & Young 2013).
Some malignant growths depend on estrogen, so perhaps the use of essential oils that
are thought to have mildly phytoestrogen-like activity should be avoided, although
there is very little published literature to substantiate this. Tisserand & Young (2013)
include the following essential oils to avoid in oncology: aniseed (Pimpinella anisum),
star anise (Illicium verum), bitter fennel (Foeniculum vulgare var. amara), sweet fennel (Foeniculum vulgare var. dulce), and myrtle (Myrtus communis) (Table 4-5).
I would add clary sage (Salvia sclarea) because I think it has mild estrogenic activity
based on my clinical experience of its ability to regulate irregular periods and reduce
premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Clary sage contains approximately 2.5% sclareol—
thought by Franchomme and Penoel (1990) to have estrogen-like properties.
TABLE 4-4 Selection of Common Essential Oils to Avoid During Pregnancy
Common Name
Essential Oil
Toxic Component
Spanish lavender
Star anise
Pimpinella anisum
Cupressus ­sempervirens
Anethum graveolens
Hyssopus officinalis
Lavandula stoechas
Illicium verum
CHAPTER 4 | Essential Oil Toxicity and Contraindications
However, there is a counter-argument. Soy products (that contain phytoestrogens) are not contraindicated in estrogen-dependent breast cancer. Recent research
has found that soy isoflavones are structurally similar to the steroid hormone
17β-estradiol (Virk-Baker et al 2014) and may protect against both breast cancer
(Prietsch et al 2014) and prostate cancer (Mahmoud et al 2014). In a similar way,
perhaps clary sage could also be of benefit in some breast cancer. Sclareol (found
in clary sage) showed cytotoxic activity against breast cell lines and appeared to
enhance the effect of some cancer drugs used in breast cancer (doxorubicin, etoposide and cisplatinum) in vitro (Dimas et al 2006).
Some essential oils are generally contraindicated for all therapeutic uses. These
include boldo leaf, calamus, cassia, bitter fennel, mugwort, mustard, rue, sassafras,
tansy, wintergreen, and wormwood. These oils all contain toxic constituents. The
essential oils contraindicated for undiluted topical application include oregano,
clove bud and leaf, cinnamon bark, camphor, and red thyme. Essential oils that I
would use with caution in patients with hypertension include rosemary, spike lavender, hyssop, juniper, thyme, and clove, although there is no published report of
blood pressure being substantially raised by essential oils (Table 4-6).
TABLE 4-5 Essential Oils Thought to Have Mild Estrogenic Activity that
Might Be Best Avoided in Some Estrogen-Dependent Tumors
Common Name
Essential Oil
Clary sage
Fennel (bitter)
Fennel (sweet)
Star anise
Pimpinella anisum
Salvia sclarea
Foeniculum vulgare var. amara
Foeniculum vulgare var. dulce
Myrtus communis
Illicium verum
TABLE 4-6 Essential Oils to Avoid with Hypertension
Common Name
Essential Oil
Spike lavender
Syzygium aromaticum
Juniperus communis
Hyssopus officinalis
Rosmarinus officinalis
Lavandula latifolia
Thymus vulgaris CT thymol
SECTION I | Overview
Aromatherapy requires knowledge, and yes, in the wrong hands, essential oils can
be hazardous. Just like paracetamol (acetaminophen) and aspirin, which can be
bought over the counter almost everywhere, essential oils should always be kept
out of the reach of children. See Table 4-2 for potentially lethal dosages in children.
If a child appears to have drunk several spoonfuls of essential oil, contact the
nearest poison unit (often listed at the front of a telephone directory). Keep the
bottle for identification and encourage the child to drink whole milk. Do not try to
induce vomiting. If essential oils (diluted or not) get into the eyes it is important
to irrigate the eyes as rapidly as possible with whole milk or vegetable oil. This will
dilute the essential oil. Then rinse with water and seek medical help. If there is a skin
reaction to an essential oil, dilute the essential oil with vegetable oil, then wash the
area with a nonperfumed soap. The majority of the components found in essential
oils are nonpolar; therefore essential oils do not mix well or dissolve in water.
Essential oils are powerful, and it is important that they are stored away from children, people who have diminished ability to think clearly, or those unaware of what
essential oils are. Essential oils kept in a hospital should be stored in a locked container. If stored in a cool, dry, dark place, undiluted essential oils can stay fresh for
several years. Citrus peel oils have the shortest shelf life, both opened and unopened.
All essential oils should be kept in colored (blue or amber) glass bottles to protect
them from ultraviolet light, with the bottles sealed. Bottles should have an integral
dropper contained in the lid to prevent spillage. All opened bottles should be stored
away from heat and sunlight (ideally in a refrigerator, similar to the storage of heparin). All bottles should carry a firmly attached label, stating the botanical name, the
supplier’s name, and the use-by date. Most reputable companies also include a label
warning that the oils should be kept away from the eyes, out of reach of children,
and not be taken by mouth. It is helpful to keep a record of when each essential oil
was purchased, the supplier’s name, and the price. A separate list should be kept
with the patient’s name, the name of the physician, the dates the patient received
aromatherapy, and any therapeutic (or adverse) results. Recording this information
makes a portfolio on the use of essential oils easily available.
Essential oils are highly flammable, so they must be stored away from open
flames such as those from candles, fire, matches, cigarettes, and gas cookers. Sprinkling them on top of light bulbs is not a good idea!
Patch testing can do much to detect and avoid skin reactions. The amount of
essential oil used is usually measured in drops or percentage. On average there are
20 drops of essential oil in 1 mL. Patch tests can be used to test for irritation and
are suggested for all potential-risk patients. Dilute the essential oil to double the
concentration to be used regularly, and put it on an adhesive bandage. Place the
bandage on the patient’s forearm. If irritation is going to occur, it will do so quickly.
CHAPTER 4 | Essential Oil Toxicity and Contraindications
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Aromatherapy and Integrative
“Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think
of it, the tree is the real thing.”
Abraham Lincoln
BOX 5-1 | Hospitals Consulted for this Chapter, 96
BOX 5-2 | Initial Hospital Locations for the Certified Clinical Aromatherapy Practitioner
(CCAP) Course Taught by Dr. Buckle (in Alphabetical Order of State), 98
BOX 5-3 | Hospitals Where the (CCAP) Course Has Been Taught by RJBA Instructors
(in Alphabetic Order of State), 99
BOX 5-4 | Clinical Aromatherapy for Hospitals (CAH) Courses, 101
BOX 5-5 | Suggested Order of Integration, 110
BOX 5-6 | Sample Hospital Clinical Aromatherapy Policy, 111
his chapter has replaced Evidence-Based Aromatherapy in Nursing Practice
because many different health professionals use aromatherapy, not just nurses.
To discover who was integrating aromatherapy, I contacted a selection of hospitals in the United States, where my Certified Clinical Aromatherapy Practitioner
(CCAP) and Clinical Aromatherapy for Hospitals (CAH) courses have been taught,
plus a hospital in South Africa, and a few hospitals in the UK, where I now live. The
aim of this chapter is to inspire health professionals to consider integrating clinical
aromatherapy into their facility. A list of the hospitals approached can be found in
Box 5-1.
Over the last 10 years, the terms integrative medicine (IM), integrative therapies, or
integrative healthcare (IH) have emerged to describe a new alliance that combines
Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) with conventional medicine.
SECTION I | Overview
BOX 5-1 Hospitals Consulted for this Chapter
Aurora Healthcare, Wisconsin and Illinois, USA
Beth Israel Center for Health and Healing, New York, USA
Carolinas Medical Center University, North Carolina, USA
Huntington Hospital, New York, USA
Penny George Institute for Health and Healing (PGIHH), Minneapolis, USA
Primary Children’s Hospital, Utah, USA
Red Cross Memorial Children’s Hospital, Cape Town, South Africa
Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital, Texas, USA
The Christie Hospital, Manchester, UK
The Royal Marsden Hospital, London, UK
College London Hospital, London, UK
This has happened because patients want both CAM and conventional medicine.
The word integrative suggests sharing and partnership, rather than the “them” and
“us” of the past. Kreitzer (2013), who spoke at the Integrative Medicine and the
Health of the Public (US) summit sponsored by the Institute of Medicine (IOM)
and the Bravewell Collaboration, points out that the word integrate means to “put
things together to form something new.” Boon et al (2004) suggest that IH should
be nonhierarchical and different to parallel, consultative, collaborative, coordinated, multidisciplinary, and interdisciplinary.
In 2012, David Eisenberg, MD, (founding Chief of the Division for Research and
Education in Complementary and Integrative Medical Therapies at Harvard Medical School and lead author of the 1991 study on the use of complementary medicine
in the United States), Wayne Jonas (current president and CEO of the Samueli
Institute who was also one of the early directors of the Office of Alternative Medicine) and Ian Coulter (Samueli Institute Chair in Policy for Integrative Medicine)
debated multiple aspects of IH including its effectiveness, utility, and the future of
IH at University of California (UCLA, Los Angeles, CA). A podcast on this debate
was available from the Samueli Institute in 2013 (https://www.samueliinstitute.org).
During the podcast, the three men suggested that IH was a combination the “best of
orthodox medicine with the best of evidence-based CAM.”
This may be so, however, “evidence-based CAM” usually means CAM that has
research-based evidence. Mariano (2013), a nursing professor at New York University,
writes “although research evidence is important it is not enough, particularly when the
evidence is limited mostly to what is funded by private interest, or grounded in the
pharmacologic treatment of disease.” Also, research is an expensive enterprise and most
research into CAM is funded by the pharmaceutical industry with a vested interest. A
great deal of CAM is based on practice-based evidence, sometimes gleaned over many
years of clinical practice. Perhaps the very best kind of IH would combine not just CAM
and conventional medicine, but evidence-based practice with practice-based evidence.
In Japan, integrative medicine is the title used to describe a “fusion of experiencebacked traditional medicine and CAM with science-backed Western medicine”
CHAPTER 5 | Aromatherapy and Integrative Healthcare
(Atsumi 2012). The term integrative medicine (IM) is preferred to integrative healthcare (IH) in Japan. IM is seen as a “combination of modern medicine with CAM
therapies” (Imanishi & Kishida (2012). At Meiji University of Integrative Medicine,
Japan (where I had the pleasure of presenting an overview of clinical aromatherapy in
2012), IM means a blend of Oriental and Western medicine (in a spectacular setting!).
Here, evidence-based practice and centuries of clinical expertise provide a solid foundation while recognizing that research can, and does, add to the body of knowledge.
Ralph Snyderman, Chancellor Emeritus, Duke University (Durham, NC, USA) said
in his keynote address (Snyderman 2009) that “the disease-driven approach to care
has resulted in spiraling costs as well as a fragmented health system that is reactive,
episodic, inefficient and impersonal.” Harold Walach, Research Professor in Psychology, University of Nottingham, UK, suggests that CAM and its subsequent acceptance as part of IH are patient-led. Patients do not “experience the benefits promised
by biomedicines: medications don’t work for everyone, some have deeply unpleasant
side effects, some may produce only short-term relief or lead to other problems that
need more medication” (Walach 2009) so patients turn to CAM. If CAM is part of
IH, patients will be better served as they will receive the benefit of both approaches.
There are many kinds of aromatherapy and many ways of using essential oils. This
can lead to confusion as to what the practice of aromatherapy entails. Essential oils
come from botanicals and they are natural products. Essential oils can have mind–
body effects and they are sometimes used in massage and/or meditation.
In the United States, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative
Medicine (NCCAM) divides CAM into three groups (http://nccam.nih.gov/health/
(1)Natural products: includes herbs (also known as botanicals), vitamins and
minerals, and probiotics.
(2)Mind and body practices: includes acupuncture, healing touch, guided imagery, massage, meditation, relaxation, tai chi, and yoga.
(3)Other health approaches: includes Ayurvedic medicine, Chinese medicine, homeopathy, naturopathy, and traditional healing.
Although aromatherapy is not listed individually, it could fit into either Group 1
or Group 2.
In the United States, 30% of academic medical establishments have IH centers
(Jonas 2013). However, each IH or IM clinic/program is different. Each has its own
SECTION I | Overview
approach, offering services that are relevant to their patient population (Bravewell
Best Practice 2007). For example, The Jefferson–Myrna Brind Center for Integrative Medicine in Philadelphia has a fee structure that reflects a mix of insurance
reimbursement (physicians) and fee-for-service (nonphysician providers and some
services provided by physicians) (Bravewell Best Practice 2007). Space is rented
by therapists who charge a fee to patients. The most commonly treated conditions are cancer care, cardiovascular issues, menopause, pain management, and
osteoporosis. The Consortium of Academic Health Centers for Integrative Medicine lists 57 academic medical centers and affiliate institutions that have used IM
As for the integration of aromatherapy, some hospitals pay their aromatherapists a fee-for-service, some include it as part of holistic nursing care, and some
institutions have unpaid volunteers. These are all methods of integrating aromatherapy into clinical practice.
Building the Foundation: Integration of Clinical
Aromatherapy in the Practice Setting
I created the first clinical aromatherapy course for nurses and doctors in the United
States and began teaching it in 1995. Since then, the CCAP course has been taught
in 27 US states. Please see Box 5-2 and Box 5-3. The course initially comprised five
BOX 5-2 Initial Hospital Locations for the Certified Clinical Aromatherapy
Practitioner (CCAP) Course Taught by Dr. Buckle
(in Alphabetical Order of State)
AK. Anchorage
FL. West Palm Beach
GA. Atlanta
ID. Boise
IN. Indianapolis
KA. Wichita
LO. Shreveport
MA. New Bedford
MI. Detroit, Lansing
MN. Minneapolis, St. Paul
NH. Manchester
NJ. Dover, Ridgewood
NM. Albuquerque
NY. New York City, Yonkers
PA. Scranton, Reading
TX. Houston, Fort Worth
VA. Suffolk
WA. Anacortes, Seattle
Wauwatosa, Milwaukee
CHAPTER 5 | Aromatherapy and Integrative Healthcare
BOX 5-3 Hospitals Where the (CCAP) Course Has Been Taught by RJBA
Instructors (in Alphabetic Order of State)
AZ. Desert Samaritan Hospital, Mesa
CT. Stamford Hospital, Stamford
IL. Infinity Foundation, Chicago
IN. Deaconess Hospital, Evansville
MA. Boston Medical Center, Boston
MA. Boston Children’s Hospital, Boston
MA. Mercy Medical Center, Springfield
MA. Franklin Medical Center, Greenfield
MA. Cooley Dickenson Hospital, Northampton
MA. The VA Medical Center, Leeds
MA. Woodlands Hospital, Woodbury
MI. Ingham Regional Medical Center, Lansing
MI. Integrated Health Professionals, Montague
MI. Visiting Nurse Services, Muskegon
MI. Samaritan Hospital, Troy
MN. Children’s Hospital, St. Paul
MN. Herrepin County Medical Center, Minneapolis
MN. United Hospital, St. Paul
MN. St John’s Hospital, Maplewood
MN. St Joseph’s Hospital, St. Paul
MN. Woodwinds Hospital, St. Paul
NC. Mission Hospital, Asheville
NC. Western Carolina University, Asheville
NE. Good Samaritan Hospital, Kearney
NJ. Shore Memorial Hospital, Somers Point
NJ. St. Clare’s Hospital, Dover
NJ. The Valley Hospital, Ridgewood
NY. Beth Israel Continuum Center, New York City
NY. Northern Westchester Hospital, Mount Krisco
NY. Highlands Hospital, Rochester
NY. Good Samaritan Hospital, Suffern
NY. St. John’s Riverside Medical Center, Yonkers
OH. Heather Hill Hospital, Chardon, OH
OH. Four Winds Academy, Cincinnati, OH
OH. Insight Learning and Wellness Center, Cleveland
OK. Mercy Hospital, Edmund
PA. Fredericksen Outpatient Center, Mechanicsburg
PA. Pinnacle Health Polyclinic Hospital, Harrisburg
TN. Holistic Alternative Wellness Clinic, Clarkson
TX. Harris Methodist Fort Worth Hospital, Fort Worth
TX. Panola College, Carthage
VA. Sentara Obici Hospital, Suffolk.
WA. Highline Community Hospital, Burien
WI. Beaver Dam Community Hospital, Beaver Dam
SECTION I | Overview
BOX 5-3 Hospitals Where the (CCAP) Course Has Been Taught by RJBA
Instructors (in Alphabetic Order of State)—cont’d
WI. St Clare’s Hospital, Baraboo
WI. Aurora Sinai Medical Center, Milwaukee
WI. Aurora Medical Center, Oshkosh
WI. Aurora Medical Center, Grafton
WI. Aurora Healthcare System, Wauwatosa
WI. St. Luke’s South Shore Hospital, Milwaukee
WI. Shawno Medical Center, Shawno
West Allis Memorial Hospital, West Allis
weekends plus one weekend of testing, spread out over 18 months, so it meant a lot
of travelling for me. The course is now four weekends plus the weekend test since
the ‘M’ Technique became a separate course, although parts of the ‘M’ Technique
are still included in the CCAP course. It was obvious from the start that progress
would be slow because the concept was so new. For aromatherapy to be accepted
clinically, it needed to be clinically focused. This meant targeting symptom management (reduced nausea, improved sleep, reduced perception of pain, infection
control) or achievement of optimal outcomes (such as improved patient satisfaction, retention of clinical staff, or cost reduction). The CCAP course was endorsed
by the American Nurses Association (AHNA) in 1999—the first aromatherapy
course to be endorsed by a national nursing organization. I realized I could not
do it all myself and invited other nurses to help me teach the course. I also set up a
database to track students, instructors, co-ordinators and student research projects.
Many small pilot studies were carried out, each targeting a specific clinical outcome
in one department of a hospital. The studies were mainly carried out by nurses and
doctors as part of their course. For transparency, the study results were presented to
an outside examiner in both a written paper (all read and critiqued by me) and for
an oral defense in front of an external examiner.
The CCAP external examiner was usually a hospital physician, or a nurse who
also had a PhD. It helped if they knew nothing, or very little, about aromatherapy
so they could come with an open mind. During the pilot studies, interest from
work colleagues often spread to other hospital departments. If the study worked,
the hospital was often keen to adopt clinical aromatherapy. If the targeted outcome was not achieved, the study might be repeated using a different percentage.
An example was the topical use of black pepper (Piper nigrum) to help access veins
before intravenous insertion in patients with difficult veins. Several RJ Buckle student studies were completed (Ballard 2004; Story 2005; Carter 2005) before an
effective percentage was found. This led to the controlled study that was published
in the Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine (Kristiniak et al 2012).
Some students published their findings, but most did not have the time, or
expertise. Therefore, I am keen (and very proud) to mention some RJBA studies
CHAPTER 5 | Aromatherapy and Integrative Healthcare
BOX 5-4 Clinical Aromatherapy for Hospitals (CAH) Courses
Carolinas Medical University, Charlotte, NC
Danbury Hospital, Danbury, CT
Minneapolis VA Healthcare System, Minneapolis, MN
Mission Hospital, Asheville, NC
St. Francis Hospital, Hartford, CT
Hospital, Westerly, RI
in this third edition. In integration, training is key. The results will only be as good
as the training given. Sometimes, online training is acceptable; however, classroom
courses allow plenty of time for dialogue and discussion that is hard to emulate
online. In either case, evidence of knowledge, skill acquisition, and competency are
required before state Board of Nursing (BON) acknowledgment is granted. Some
state BONs, such as Massachusetts, list “aromatherapy” and “use of essential oils”
separately (MA BON Advisory Ruling 9801, 2012). Today, clinical aromatherapy is
available as part of CAM and as part of IH in many hospitals in the United States.
I introduced a much shorter course (14 hours over 2 days), Clinical Aromatherapy for Hospitals (CAH), several years ago. This was intended for hospitals
wanting to integrate aromatherapy initially in a very small way. Please see Box 5-4
for hospitals where this course has been taught.
The next part of this chapter examines different ways of integrating aromatherapy
in different countries.
United States—All Great Things Begin with Small
North Carolina
Ron Hunt, MD, an anesthesiologist, set up an IH clinic in Charlotte, NC, in 2000.
Staffed by a physician, a chiropractor, a massage therapist (MT), a physical therapist (PT), and an acupuncturist, they used herbs and aromatherapy in a multidisciplinary approach (Hunt 2014) to patient care. The clinic was geared toward treating
patients with chronic pain who had exhausted traditional medical therapies and
interventions (Hunt 2014). Hunt was so impressed with aromatherapy that he set
up a clinical trial (N = 303) at Carolinas Medical Center University (Charlotte,
NC) to explore the effect of inhaled essential oils for postoperative nausea. The
positive results (Hunt et al 2013) impressed the nursing staff and other medics.
Aromatherapy is now used regularly in the Post Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU)
by RNs, and there is a hospital aromatherapy policy in place. In spite of this very
encouraging advance, integrating aromatherapy in other areas of the hospital is
proving slow (Hunt 2013). Dr. Hunt completed the RJBA CAH course in 2012.
SECTION I | Overview
New York
Huntington Hospital
Judy Dibartolo, RN was one of the pioneers who helped integrate aromatherapy
into Huntington Hospital, NY, and created a whole new Complementary Care
Center. Today, aromatherapy treatments are available to patients throughout the
hospital. An aromatherapy hospital policy is in place. There is no additional fee
to the patients. Nurses who use aromatherapy complete a mandatory in-service
training. Six single essential oils—eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus), frankincense
(Boswellia carteri), ginger (Zingiber officinalis), lavender (Lavandula angustifolia),
mandarin (Citrus reticulata), and peppermint (Mentha × piperita)—are used topically in the ‘M’ Technique, or inhaled using aromastix (Dibartolo 2014). Nursing
staff also use an essential oil “purification spray.” Judy received the 2006 Magnet
Nursing Award for setting up the Complementary Care Center. It is hoped the use
of essential oils will be extended to include infection control in the future. Judy
completed the RJBA CCAP course in 2011.
The Center for Health and Healing
At Beth Israel Hospital, New York City, integration means taking care of staff as well
as patients. The Center for Health and Healing (previously called Continuum Center for Health and Healing) Department of Integrative Medicine is an initiative of
Mount Sinai Beth Israel that started in 2000 (http://www.healthandhealingny.org).
Today, 75% of the nursing staff have learned basic information on a small set of
essential oils via funding from the Evans Foundation (Lee 2014). The funding covers an integrative stress management program for staff and patients. Grounded in
holistic nursing, the program includes aromatherapy as well as yoga and breathing
exercises (CIRE-IM 2014). The center also has a special DK aromatherapy cancer
project funded by Donna Karan (Ocampo 2014). This project trains staff to use
four essential oils—lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), ginger (Zingiber officinalis),
peppermint (Mentha × piperita), and ylang ylang (Canaga odorata)—to relieve
anxiety, pain, and nausea. Aurora Ocampo, BS, RN, heads the 2-day training for
the DK project and is clinical aromatherapy lead for integration. Aurora completed
the RJBA CCAP training in 2000 and became both a CCAP and an ‘M’ Technique
instructor in 2003.
An example of successful integration is the oncology inpatient care provided
through the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing (PGIHH) in Minneapolis (Kinney 2012). PGIHH is the integrative arm of Allina Health, one of the
largest healthcare systems in the United States with 11 hospitals, 90 clinics, and
more than 23,000 employees. A small number (began with four) of single essential
oils are used. All 6000 Allina Health nurses have access to an online aromatherapy
education course that enables them to use aromatherapy at the bedside (Kinney
2014). The clinically focused and research-backed course was created by two nurses
who had completed the RJBA training. Between 2003 and 2012, more than 10,000
CHAPTER 5 | Aromatherapy and Integrative Healthcare
aromatherapy treatments were offered for symptoms such as nausea, pain, and anxiety and this was documented in patient electronic medical records (Kinney 2012).
Mary-Ellen Kinney, RN, completed her RJBA CCAP training in 2005.
Carol Scheidel, RN, BSN, is the clinical aromatherapy lead instructor for Texas Health
Harris Methodist Hospital, Fort Worth, TX, as well as being the hospital Ethics Manager. The hospital started training its staff via the RJBA CCAP course in 2004 and
has graduated 130 healthcare professionals, including nurses, physical therapists,
and pharmacists. Currently, there are 28 CCAPs on staff (Scheidel 2014). The course
is currently taught by five RJBA-certified CCAP instructors, led by Carol Scheidel.
A choice of 33 essential oils are used, individually or in mixtures, either topically (in
the ‘M’ Technique) or inhaled. There is a hospital policy and protocol in place. Examples of use in the med-surgical unit are: topical black pepper to help intravenous insertion, ginger or peppermint for nausea, and sweet marjoram for gut motility following
abdominal surgery (Scheidel 2014). Essential oils are also used in the midwifery clinic,
intensive care unit (ICU), and many other areas of the hospital. The hospital has been
featured in the national press for its pioneering stance on integrating clinical aromatherapy. Carol Scheidel completed her RJBA CCAP training in 2004.
Dr. Lynn Gershan, Medical Director of Pediatric Integrative Medicine, began integrating aromatherapy into the Integrative Medicine program at Primary Children’s
Hospital, Salt Lake City, UT, just over 3 years ago. Her overall aim is that everyone
on staff will be able to use a few selected essential oils (Gershan 2014). For nurse
education, Dr. Gershan is assisted by Jody Osteyee, DNP, APRN, CPNP. By October 2013, hospital policies and protocols were in place and a 15-minute computerbased training module had been created with the assistance of Jaclyn White, RN.
This was followed with a home package that nurses and Child Life Specialists could
use to try out the essential oils at home (Osteyee 2014). Higher levels of training will
be created for those overseeing the integration and, as the program expands, so the
level of training will increase. Currently, the four oils in use are lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), peppermint (Mentha × piperita), spearmint (Mentha × spicata),
and mandarin (Citrus reticulata). These are provided on cotton balls for inhalation
or in personal inhalers (aromastix). Symptoms targeted are anxiety, pain, nausea,
and insomnia. Response to treatment is recorded in the patient’s electronic medical
record (Gershan 2014).
The clinical aromatherapy integration program is currently used in both the
inpatient and the outpatient pediatric oncology setting. It will gradually expand
to include the whole hospital system, starting with the Intermountain Healthcare
(IHC) system’s Maternity Suite in Logan, and both the inpatient and the Same Day
Surgery units at Riverton Hospital (Gershan 2014).
There is no additional charge to the patient because each hospital unit pays
for the essential oils out of its budget. Essential oils are purchased from a group
SECTION I | Overview
of different companies known to Dr. Gershan. A small pilot study was conducted
in the outpatient oncology clinic targeting nausea using aromastix. The study
was recently completed and has been submitted for publication. Therapeutic use
of essential oils is also taught to rotating pediatric residents by the IM team that
includes Dr. Gershan and Malinda Horton, NP (Nurse Practitioner). Diagnoses
treated include dermatologic side effects of chemotherapy, wounds, snake bites,
dysmenorrhea, abdominal and muscle pain, and migraines (Gershan 2014). Patient
education is an important facet of this service. Dr. Gershan completed the RJBA
clinical aromatherapy home study course in 2010.
Aurora Healthcare
Founded in 1984, Aurora Healthcare (AHC) has 15 hospitals and 185 clinics as well
as home care, hospices, and pharmacies in eastern Wisconsin and northern Illinois.
AHC employs approximately 6300 registered nurses, 1500 physicians, and is one
of Wisconsin’s largest private-sector employers. The use of clinical aromatherapy
began approximately 10 years ago via RJBA’s CCAP training program (Conway
2014). To date, 50 staff members have completed the training. Integration varies at
each site location. Specific departments that request greater knowledge or expertise
are led by CCAPs who are also nurses, nurse practitioners, or physician assistants
(Conway 2014). There is no patient charge for aromatherapy. The hospital policy
states that board of nursing approval, CCAP training, and physician approval are
required for nurses to administer essential oil treatments. (The CCAP training covers 33 essential oils. These can be used either singly or in mixtures, topically or
inhaled; therefore, there is a wide choice.)
Aurora has created two separate training programs for other staff so they can
use aromatherapy via diffusers or topically. The first provides patients with the
choice to use essential oils to scent their room during their inpatient stay. The second provides night nurses with a lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)-scented cream
that they can apply to patients at bedtime. An informal survey (subjective) found
both programs were popular. The older nurses particularly liked the chance to put
“back in touch” with the patients, because many had practiced back rubs in their
training. Anecdotal feedback found patients needed less sleep or anxiety medication
and staff felt empowered (Conway 2014).
Patients can also use personal inhalers (aromastix) for specific conditions
such as reduction of chemo-induced nausea (Conway 2014). Diane Ames, MSN,
NP, CCAP, has led the integration of clinical aromatherapy into Aurora Healthcare. She completed her CCAP training in 2004 and became a CCAP instructor
in 2006. Diane also consults throughout the hospital on the use of essential oils
for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and wound infections,
under the direction of Nancy Conway, MS, Director Integrative Medicine. Aromatherapy is listed on the Aurora Healthcare website under patient services
(Aurora 2014).
CHAPTER 5 | Aromatherapy and Integrative Healthcare
Veterans Affairs System: Minneapolis
The Minneapolis Veterans Affairs (VA) system has been using essential oils for
about 4 years in the hospice/palliative care program. This was expanded to a few
other units as interest expanded and education was made available to staff (Katseres
2014). By early 2014, all nursing staff had received 4 hours of integrative therapy
education. This includes the hand ‘M’ Technique, information on some essential
oils, and aspects of holistic nursing. Integrative therapy will shortly be available
to all patients (both inpatient and outpatient), and in the community-based outreach clinics (Katseres 2014). Essential oils are available at no extra cost to patients
through the hospital supply distribution center. However, if patients need a refill,
they can order directly from Plant Extracts International—a local essential oil company that has worked with the VA to develop and provide the six different essential
oil mixtures in current use. Applications are either topical, inhalation via cotton
ball, diffusers, and the ‘M’ Technique, or direct application to the affected site. Aromastix are particularly popular for patients undergoing chemotherapy and radiotherapy (Katseres 2014). The clinical aromatherapy nurse lead is Julie Katseres who
completed her CCAP training in 2011.
Planetree Organization
Griffin Hospital is a 160-bed acute care community hospital serving more
than 100,000 residents of the Lower Naugatuck Valley Region (http://www.
griffinhealth.org). Griffin Hospital is the flagship for the Planetree organization—
arguably where patient-centered care began 36 years ago—and is affiliated to Yale
School of Medicine. Planetree’s international membership of approved hospitals
comprises more than 500 organizations from eight countries. The Planetree model
is designed to ensure that patients’ well-being, comfort, and dignity are central to
patient care. Planetree offers a viable and effective option because it helps hospitals
to balance this sharpened focus on the patient experience within the context of dayto-day demands including budget concerns, regulatory pressures, staffing shortages, and growing consumer and media interest in hospital performance outcomes
Aromatherapy was introduced at Griffin Hospital in the early 2000s (Stumpo
2014) and is currently used as part of integrative care throughout the hospital (med/
surgical, critical care, inpatient psychiatry, same-day surgery, gastrointestinal [GI]
department, and childbirth center). All new staff attend a 2-day/overnight retreat
where they are introduced to the Planetree philosophy and integrative therapies
including aromatherapy. Each hospital department has a basket containing four
single essential oils: lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), bergamot (Citrus bergamia),
mandarin (Citrus reticulata), and peppermint (Mentha piperita) (Carino 2014).
Essential oils are used via inhalation only: either one or two drops on cotton balls,
on a tissue, or used in a personal inhaler (aromastick). There is no extra charge to
the patient for any integrative therapy. Essential oils are purchased from a variety
of essential oil companies known to the clinical aromatherapy nurse lead, Eileen
Carino. Essential oils are used daily in the psych department to help detoxification.
SECTION I | Overview
Eileen completed her CCAP training in 2003 and her research project focused on
aiding detoxification in a psych unit using inhaled bergamot.
It is amazing what one person can achieve. Kathy Duffy, LPN, MH, CCAP, is an
RJBA aromatherapy instructor who needs special mention, because single-­handedly
she has managed to integrate clinical aromatherapy into 14 hospitals throughout
the United States! Since I relocated back to the UK in 2005, Kathy has taken on the
mantle of travelling most weekends to spread the word. She is a great instructor, her
evaluations are excellent, and her student research projects have opened the doors
to integration in a big way. The courses in Valley Hospital, Stamford and Boston
Medical Center have been running every year for 10, 8, and 4 years, respectively. All
the hospitals are still using clinical aromatherapy. Thank you, Kathy!
United Kingdom
Clinical aromatherapy is part of an integrative approach at The Christie Hospital, the largest cancer hospital in Europe. The Christie registers around 12,500 new
patients and treats about 40,000 patients every year. It is the lead cancer center for
the Greater Manchester and Cheshire Cancer Network, covering a population of 3.2
million, and runs clinics at 16 other general hospitals (http://www.christie.nhs.uk).
The Christie is a National Health Service (NHS) Foundation Trust hospital. Aromatherapy is offered for symptom control of nausea, depression, and insomnia as
well as for infection control (Stringer 2014). The Christie was one of the first hospitals to publish its use of aromastix (Stringer & Donald 2011). Aromatherapy is also
used in massage, gargles, mouthwashes, and to enable wounds to heal (Stringer et al
2008). Specific blends are used in aromastix and mixtures of essential oils (rather
than single essential oils) are used for massage in the units and for clinical work
(Stringer 2014). There are currently two nurse/aromatherapists on staff and three
other aromatherapists are brought in from outside. Jacqui Stringer PhD, RGN is the
clinical nurse aromatherapy lead.
The Royal Marsden Hospital
The Royal Marsden Hospital, London, is an NHS Hospital Trust and was the first
hospital in the world to be dedicated solely to cancer care (http://www.nhs.uk). It
has been integrating aromatherapy throughout the hospital for over 20 years (Lewis
2014). Aromatherapy treatments generally involve massage; however, personal
inhalers (aromastix) are also used and the hospital has, to date, conducted and
published three service evaluations (audits) of aromastix use. The Royal Marsden
has two hospital sites (Sutton and Chelsea). Aromatherapists are brought in from
outside and are salaried (Lewis 2014). Rhi Lewis (previously Rhi Harris) is a British
trained nurse and editor of the International Journal of Clinical Aromatherapy. She
has led the advanced clinical aromatherapy training at the Royal Marsden for the
past 11 years. She also teaches therapists outside the hospital who are working in
cancer and/or palliative care.
CHAPTER 5 | Aromatherapy and Integrative Healthcare
University College Hospital
University College Hospital (UCH) (NHS Hospital Trust) has used aromatherapy for
over 15 years. Aromatherapists are part of the Support and Information Team based in
the Macmillan UCH Cancer Center (UCLH 2014). Aromatherapy is given via massages.
Aromastix, room diffusers, aromastones, and aromastreams are also used in therapy
rooms and on the inpatient wards (Charlesworth 2014). Between 2012 and 2013, 500
aromastix were given to patients and 1200 aromatherapy massages were given to cancer
patients and their relatives (Charlesworth 2014). Treatments are given in the outpatient
department, but also to inpatients. Essential oils are used as preprepared mixtures in
aromastones on the wards via the nursing staff, and are also given to patients with general advice. There is a hospital policy that covers all complementary therapists. Essential
oils are given to reduce the side effects of radiotherapy and chemotherapy and are mixed
to suit individual patient needs. Elaine Charlesworth is the senior complementary therapist for UCH Macmillan Cancer Center. Although the team is employed by the NHS,
much of their funding is through charitable donations (UCLH 2014).
Marianne Tavares was a nurse for 30 years in England. Between 1999 and 2009 she
worked at St. Gemma’s Hospice, Leeds, where she led the complementary therapy
program and chaired the Association of Complementary Therapists in Hospice
and Palliative Care. Before moving to Canada, Marianne wrote a guide to integrating clinical aromatherapy into a palliative care program (Tavares 2011). In it she
includes aromatherapy protocols for wound care, skin care, and mouth care, based
on her clinical experience.
South Africa
Linda-Anne O’Flaherty began working as an aromatherapist volunteer at Red Cross
Memorial Children’s Hospital in Cape Town, South Africa, 10 years ago. Currently,
there are eight volunteer aromatherapists working in the hospital and Linda-Anne
is part of the pain team. The wards covered are Oncology, Trauma, Medical, Burns,
ICU, Surgical, Renal/Transplant, and Cardiac/Tracheostomy (O’Flaherty 2014).
Volunteers visit once a week. Initially the response from the medical staff was quite
patronizing. However, the majority of the medical staff have now witnessed the effects
of the treatments and are very supportive and positive. Currently, the aromatherapist
volunteers receive requests and referrals from doctors, nurses, physical therapists,
occupational therapists, and social workers. Aromatherapy is mainly administered
by the ‘M’ Technique or massage (O’Flaherty 2014). Linda-Anne completed her
‘M’ Technique practitioner training in 2008 and instructor training in 2009.
Although the above examples are encouraging, clinical aromatherapy still has some
way to go before it is accepted in every medical establishment. One of the major studies carried out on integrative medicine in the United States was sponsored by The
SECTION I | Overview
Bravewell Collaboration. However, this study did not include aromatherapy (Horrigan et al 2012). When asked why not, the primary investigator replied “not enough
centers were using it as an intervention in a clinical protocol” (Horrigan 2014). This
was surprising because out of the 29 integrative medicine centers interviewed for the
study, several were known to be using aromatherapy. This could be because aromatherapy is often used as part of holistic nursing. For example, Kligler et al (2011)
examined the cost-effectiveness of integrative medicine using a program called Urban
Zen in the oncology department at Beth Israel. Urban Zen uses a combination of
“yoga therapy, holistic nursing techniques, and a healing environment.” On further
inspection, the holistic nursing techniques used included aromatherapy. Specifically,
essential oils such as lavender and ylang ylang were incorporated into treatment to
address common inpatient complaints including insomnia and anxiety. So sometimes it looks as if aromatherapy is not being used, when in fact it is.
Aromatherapy is recognized as part of holistic nursing by the American Holistic
Nurses Association (AHNA) and by most State Boards of Nursing in the United
States. Complementary therapies (including aromatherapy) are “a necessary curriculum content of baccalaureate nursing education” (AACN 2008; Santangelo 2013)—
although students are not required to be trained in complementary therapies. One of
the most interesting parts of the study by Horrigan et al (2012) was Appendix 7 (p
88-91). This section asked what were the factors driving the success of integration.
Each facility gave its own reply. Many cited the importance of strong leadership, a
sincere belief in integration, good practitioner skills, and patient satisfaction.
There are many ways to use essential oils in hospitals. They range from the simple
mood-enhancing effects of smelling something pleasant (Dobetsberger & Buchbauer 2011) to the use of an essential oil to reduce anxiety (van der Watt & Janca
2008). Essential oils with antimicrobial properties can reduce infections (Garozzo
et al 2009; Tohidpour et al 2010; Warnke et al 2013). Essential oils can also reduce
postoperative nausea (Hunt et al 2013) and perception of pain (Kim et al 2006).
Aromatherapy can be cost-saving—reducing the need for antiemetic, anxiolytic,
and hypnotic medications (Kligler et al 2011).
Dobetsberger & Buchbauer (2011) reviewed the action of essential oils on the
central nervous system (CNS) and demonstrated that some inhaled essential oils
can affect mood. A lot of hospitals or long-term care facilities do not smell nice. Yet,
how we feel affects how we are, and how we heal (Littrell 2008). If it is possible to
positively alter the environment to promote healing and improve overall well-being
through the use of essential oils, this is a goal worth pursuing.
Patients undergoing radiotherapy or computer-assisted tomography scans are
isolated in a room during treatment and have to lie absolutely still for lengthy
periods of time. Many find this experience stressful. Wearing an aromapatch,
an aromapacket or an aromastix with a soothing mix of essential oils may help
CHAPTER 5 | Aromatherapy and Integrative Healthcare
(Stringer & Donald 2011). These are inexpensive to purchase and can be filled with
a customized mixture.
Residential care homes often have unpleasant smells: a mixture of incontinent
patients, hospital food, and lavatory cleaner. This was obvious when I recently visited a friend with Parkinson’s disease. The home was lovely, the care was great, but
the smell was not.
Sixty percent of patients in ICUs gain a hospital-acquired infection (HAI) and
this is a strong predictor for mortality (Vincent et al 2009; Kaye et al 2010). Many
essential oils have antibacterial (Roller et al 2009; Tohidpour et al 2010; Warnke
et al 2013) and antiviral properties (Loizzo et al 2008; Garozzo et al 2009). Using
essential oils that are effective against HAIs such as MRSA (Warnke 2013) or Acinetobacter baumannii (Duarte et al 2012) can reduce additional hospital inpatient
days and associated costs. Essential oils can reduce the work-induced stress of hospital staff (Pemberton & Turpin 2008). Aromatherapy can also help visitors cope
with the trauma and emotion of visiting their hospitalized loved one. Learning
how to give their loved one a 5-minute hand ‘M’ Technique with relaxing essential oils has been demonstrated to empower visitors and soothe, their loved ones
(Pritchard 2012). Happier patients and visitors can reduce the stress of nursing
and medical staff.
Integration takes time. Be realistic. People are busy. Many people still think aromatherapy is massage with a nice smell. Target one department—it is probably the one
where you work or feel most comfortable. It is a good idea to target one symptom
that could be problematic/costly/time consuming. Nausea? Insomnia? Infection?
Make a short (10 minutes) factual presentation to key personnel such as the unit
manager and the staff who would be administering essential oils. Conduct a review
of the literature and have relevant references and research citations on hand. As
you move further into this process, consider developing a feasibility study with cost
analysis. Your aim is to show that aromatherapy is a viable, cost-effective, safe, and
simple therapy for symptom management with both qualitative and quantitative
benefits. Once approval has been received to either pilot or institute aromatherapy,
all potential stakeholders should be engaged in the process (Box 5-5), and a policy
or protocol will need to be developed. In a nutshell, this means answering several
questions such as who is permitted to administer aromatherapy treatments, what is
the training and education required, what safety requirements are needed for storage and administration of aromatherapy, and so on (Box 5-6).
When an integrative modality such as aromatherapy is new to a facility, it may be
helpful to start any program of research with a small pilot study (N = 10) targeting one symptom. The study should include a specific measurable outcome using
SECTION I | Overview
BOX 5-5 Suggested Order of Integration
Select Target Department
Eg: Critical care, dermatology, care of elderly, hospice, labor and delivery, longterm care, mental health, oncology, palliative, pediatrics, recovery room, well-being,
women’s health, etc.
Things to Consider
Administrative Support
In small facilities, the support of one key administrator may be enough. Often the
nursing executive can champion the cause. Other times you will also need the support
of the chief executive officer (CEO). Make sure you know where the ‘permission’
resides in your facility before you proceed. Ask yourself, who is the gate-keeper?
General Support
In larger facilities, try to cultivate support from a major department, for example,
nursing, physical therapy, social work, or pharmacy. The majority of staff will be
supportive, interested, or neutral. If someone expresses overt negativity, try gently
educating that person.
Physician Support
Physicians are important to the acceptance of clinical aromatherapy into the
facility. Try to get support from at least one physician. It takes time to develop trust
and it is important to be able to present credible research. Hopefully, some of the
references in this book will help.
Therapeutics Committee
Most healthcare facilities have a therapeutics committee or a mechanism for
approving new modalities to be used by staff. (Even the lotion provided at the bedside
will need to be approved.) Start with a few, well-chosen essential oils.
Policy and Procedure
A policy states who and how. It is important that staff know who is allowed to use
essential oils and how they are to be used. Make sure you follow the requirements for
new policy development.
Training of Staff
Facilities that support the integration of clinical aromatherapy will need to be
reassured on the quality and relevance of training. Generally, we have found that the
10.5-hour Clinical Aromatherapy for Hospitals (CAH) classroom-taught course is
enough to begin with. This enables staff to use six essential oils safely. Several staff
can then take the Certified Clinical Aromatherapy Practitioner (CCAP) course (250
hours) that enables them to mentor and lead the therapeutic use of essential oils
throughout the facility.
Creation of a Policy
Buy in from all areas (representatives who support aromatherapy). Medical
therapeutics should be involved in policy creation. MSDS (Material Safety Data
must be available for use of any substance in a healthcare facility.
CHAPTER 5 | Aromatherapy and Integrative Healthcare
BOX 5-6 Sample Hospital Clinical Aromatherapy Policy
To outline the management of patients receiving aromatherapy treatment.
This guideline applies to hospital inpatient and outpatient services.
To promote physical, emotional, or spiritual well-being.
To promote relaxation and reduction of stress.
Certified Clinical Aromatherapy Practitioners (CCAPs) will supervise the use of essential oils for therapeutic purposes at the hospital.
Clinical aromatherapy is the controlled use of essential oils to enhance health and wellbeing by alleviating specific symptoms or reaching specified outcome targets.
Topical application refers to the ‘M’ Technique a compress with water, carrier oil,
or gel (spore- and bacteria-free) directly over the affected area, or a bath (hand, foot,
sitz, or full).
Direct inhalation is targeted to a single individual. Examples include:
•Applying 2-5 drops of essential oil to a tissue and breathing normally for up to 15
•Applying 2-5 drops of essential oil on a cotton ball/tissue placed under the pillow case.
•Using 6-12 drops of essential oil in an aromastix as required.
•Using ready-made aromapatches or adding 2-3 drops of essential oil to an
•Using 2-4 drops of essential oil in an electrically operated aromastone.
•Using proprietary aromapatches or aromapackets.
Indirect inhalation may affect multiple individuals. Examples include:
•Using an electric nebulizer or battery-operated diffuser to diffuse fine particles of
essential oil within a room.
•Applying 2-5 drops of essential oil to a cotton ball or paper towel and placing it on
a surface in a patient room where diffuse particles of essential oil can be inhaled by
anyone in the room.
Carrier oil is a fixed oil used to “carry” or act as a vehicle for administering
essential oils to the body. Carrier oils have specific properties. The most frequently
used is sweet almond oil. Culinary oils are not suitable.
Patch testing is the process used to determine if a person reacts negatively to an
essential oil before topical applications (see Section 6.3.3).
Assess Patient
•Skin integrity, sensitivities
•Aroma likes/dislikes
SECTION I | Overview
BOX 5-6 Sample Hospital Clinical Aromatherapy Policy—cont’d
•Chronic diseases: seizure disorder, hypertension
•Estrogen-dependent tumors
Physical Assessment:
Include pregnancy and vital signs
Current Problem:
What symptom needs to be addressed:
•Patient evaluation of intensity 0-10 scale
•Degree of impact on life/activities/recovery
Discuss Treatment
•Possible choice of oils, if applicable
•Safety measures for all essential oils
Patient Agreement
•Oil selection
•Verbal consent
•Patch Testing, if indicated, for any topical use:
•Two drops of mixture at double the concentration to be used are put on an
adhesive bandage, attached to the patients’ upper arm, and left for 15 minutes.
(Assess first for allergy to adhesives: if allergic to adhesive, use cotton ball with
paper or nonadhesive tape.) This is particularly important if the essential oil
contains high amounts of phenols or oxides.
Perform Treatment
•Immediate effect
•Follow-up effect
•Essential oil(s) used
•Method of use
•Outcome or effect
Safety Considerations
Practitioner related, when applicable:
•Maintain good ventilation in treatment area
•Open door to ventilate room after treatment
•Allow a minimum of 5 minutes breathing “fresh air” between treatments
•Wash hands before and after applying essential oils
Patient related. Examples of situational responses:
•Essential oil in the eye:
•Irrigate the eye with milk, or carrier oil, then with water
•Keep the bottle to show which essential oil was being used
•Notify physician, if patient involved
•Report to employee health, if staff involved
CHAPTER 5 | Aromatherapy and Integrative Healthcare
BOX 5-6 Sample Hospital Clinical Aromatherapy Policy—cont’d
•Undiluted essential oil (high phenol variety) on the skin, skin burned:
•Dilute with carrier oil
•Wash with nonperfumed soap and water and dry
•Notify physician, if patient involved
•Report to employee health, if staff involved
•5 mL (or more) essential oil taken orally:
•Give milk to drink
•Keep the bottle to show which essential oil was being used
•Essential oils when taken in amounts greater than 5 mL by mouth should be
treated as poisons
Notify physician, if patient involved
Report to employee health, if staff involved
•Broken bottle with essential oil and glass on floor:
•Use paper towels to soak up oil and collect glass
•Put mixture in paper and dispose in double-sealed plastic bag
General Safety with Essential Oils
•MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheets) will be available in areas where essential oils
are used
•Out of reach of children
•Cool area
•In tightly closed containers
•Away from foods or drink
•All bottles containing essential oils should be clearly marked with indelible labels
that include the following:
•Full botanical names
•Relevant safety information
•Quantity of oil(s)
•Expiration date
All pure essential oils should be packaged in colored glass bottles that may include an
integral dropper of standard (20 drops per mL) size
•Whenever possible, essential oils should be used in enclosed areas to prevent the
aromas from spreading
•All essential oils used should be documented in the patient record
•The positive and negative effects (outcomes) of essential oils should be evaluated
and documented
•Use topically in 1% to 5% dilution, except in specific situations as recommended
by safety guidelines
•Mixtures of essential oils plus carrier oil for single patient use may be stored in a
plastic bottle for up to 2 weeks (see Labeling 7.3.3)
SECTION I | Overview
BOX 5-6 Sample Hospital Clinical Aromatherapy Policy—cont’d
•No special clothing is required, but some essential oils such as German chamomile
and mandarin may leave a stain
•They should be disposed of in a sealed plastic bag
Use with caution in pregnancy, epilepsy, hypertension, estrogen-dependent tumors,
patients with sensitivities and allergies
a published tool, for example, the visual analog scale (VAS) or numerical scale
(0-10). If possible, seek help from an experienced research scientist to consult with
you on the design of the study and the study proposal. There are also some excellent
easy-to-read research books that can be very useful. A proposal of this type must go
to the Institutional Review Board or the Ethics Committee for approval before you
can begin the study. Although embarking on a new research study may create a little
anxiety, particularly to the novice researcher, keep in mind that a pilot study need
not be complicated to provide findings that are very useful in the clinical setting.
When the study has been completed, it is important to disseminate the findings
internally to key stakeholders within the organization, and externally so that all
clinicians have access to what was learned from the study.
Take one step at a time. One small step for integrative medicine, one huge leap for
clinical aromatherapy! If RJBA students have been able to do this, then you can too.
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Tohidpour A, Sattari M, Omidbaigi R, Yadegar A, Nazemi J. 2010. Antibacterial effect of essential oils
from two medicinal plants against methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Phytomedicine. 17(2):142–5.
UCLH. University College London Hospital. 2014. http://www.uclh.org/OurServices/ServiceA-Z/
Cancer/CSS/CCT/Pages/Home.aspx. Accessed March 2, 2014.
van der Watt G, Janca A. 2008. Aromatherapy in nursing and mental health care. Contemporary Nurse.
Vincent J, Rello J, Marchall J, Silva E, Anzueto A et al. 2009. International study of the prevalence and
outcomes of infection in intensive care units. JAMA. 302(21):2323–9.
Walach H. 2009. The campaign against CAM - a reason to be proud. J Holistic Med. 6(1):8–13.
Warnke P, Lott A, Sherry E, Podschun R. 2013. The ongoing battle against multi-resistant strains: in vitro inhibition of hospital-acquired MRSA, VRE, Pseudomonas, ESBL E coli and Klebsiella species in
the presence of plant derived antiseptic oils. J Cranio-Maxillofacial Surg. 41(4):321–6.
The ‘M’ Technique®
“And I realized that all the world wants to be held in spite of it all.”
Jack Kornfield
After the Ecstasy, the Laundry
TABLE 6-1 | A Selection of UK Hospices Using the ‘M’ Technique (in Alphabetical Order), 121
TABLE 6-2 | A Selection of UK Hospitals Using the ‘M’ Technique (in Alphabetical Order), 122
The ‘M’ Technique® is a registered method of gentle, structured touch suitable for
the very fragile, actively dying, or stressed individual. It is also useful for those who
would like to soothe someone with gentle touch, but are not trained in massage.
Anyone can learn the ‘M’ Technique—it is suitable for caregivers, family members, volunteers, patient ambassadors and friends, as well as nurses and other health
The combination of essential oils with touch is a powerful mix to relieve stress and
anxiety. However, touch is rarely included in nursing, medical, or other health
trainings, so many health professionals do not know how to touch their patients
and do not have the time, money, or inclination to take a massage therapy training
course. Massage training in the United States takes 500 to 1000 hours; in the UK,
Australia, Canada, and many other countries it takes 60 to 100 hours.
Because the ‘M’ Technique is simple, it can be learned quickly (4 hours for a
hand and foot course, 2 days for a full body course). Because the ‘M’ Technique is
gentle, it can be used when conventional massage would be inappropriate, i.e., for
those at the end of life (Roberts & Campbell 2011), sick children in hospital (Daniels & O’Flaherty 2010), or premature babies (Smith et al 2012).
SECTION I | Overview
Because the ‘M’ Technique is repetitive, it can be helpful to soothe children with
special needs (Breen Rickerby & Cordell 2012) or patients with dementia (Tappin 2010). The repetitive strokes have been called “physical hypnotherapy (Buckle
2002).” Brain imaging research found the effect of the ‘M’ Technique on the brain
was different to that of conventional massage (Buckle et al 2008) and was more akin
to meditation. Also, the ‘M’ Technique appeared to have a cumulative effect, possibly because the patient quickly recognized the repetitive strokes and began to relax
deeply, knowing what was coming next (Hunter 2012; Clayton 2014).
Because the ‘M’ Technique is structured and never changes, it is useful for
research (Quate 2002; Richardson 2008; de Jong et al 2011). The possible variables
of pressure, number of strokes, and sequence of strokes are fixed and repetitive.
Everyone receives the same ‘M’ Technique whether they are young or old, sick or
healthy, regardless of their size. It is like learning the steps of a dance; the steps
remain the same.
The ‘M’ Technique is also a useful tool for caregivers. Amanda Richardson, a
community nurse for 22 years, did her BSc (Honors) in Complementary Therapies
at the University of Wales. Her dissertation explored the effectiveness of the ‘M’
Technique to reduce stress and improve the physical and psychological well-being
of nonprofessional caregivers of clients with dementia. Measurements were objective (pulse and blood pressure) as well as self-recorded: stress using VAS (0-10) and
perceived well-being using Measure Your Medical Outcome Profile (MYMOP).
Results across all measurements found that the ‘M’ Technique reduced caregiver
stress and improved their physical and psychological well-being (Richardson 2009).
Amanda won first prize for her dissertation from Elsevier.
Hippocrates described the importance of touch in the 5th century BC and declared
it his favorite of all health essentials. Touch is as an integral part of health and social
care (Chang 2001; Rombalski 2003; Rousseau & Blackburn 2008; Roberts & Campbell 2011; Breen Rickerby & Cordell 2012). However, touch is not taught as part of
nursing or medical care.
After I had completed my nursing training, I specialized in critical care. Many of
my patients could hear me, but they could not communicate with me because they
were intubated. I found myself patting them gently to try and reassure them and
gradually realized what I really wanted was a non-verbal method of communication. Touch seemed the answer. I wanted to be sure what I was doing was right,
so I completed a massage training course. This gave me confidence to touch, but
much of what I learned was completely inappropriate for such fragile patients. So
I started to devise my own method of gentle, structured touch. It was easy to see
CHAPTER 6 | The ‘M’ Technique®
what worked and what did not by watching the monitors. Over the years, distinctive patterns emerged that differentiated it from massage: the pressure was much
lighter, the strokes were repeated a set number of times, and the sequence never
altered. This combination seemed to really relax my patients. I named it the ‘M’
Technique—the ‘M’ stands for manual, although over the years, people have also
called it Magic and Mesmerizing. I moved to the United States in 1994. The ‘M’
Technique® was registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office
(Registration No. 2,203,159) in 1998 and is protected. Copyright laws apply.
The first informal piece of research was carried out in 1996 at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center, New York (sponsored by Dr. Oz). The ‘M’ Technique was
applied to the legs of volunteer medical students who were connected to an eightlead electrocardiogram (ECG) monitor to measure the parasympathetic response.
The ECG showed a positive parasympathetic response within 5 minutes. Several
pilot studies on end-of-life agitation were subsequently carried out using the ‘M’
Technique: at Scranton Hospice, Pennsylvania (Katz 1999); Beth Israel Hospice,
New York (Ocampo 2001); and Harris Methodist hospice unit, Fort Worth, Texas
(O’Keefe 2001; Anderson 2004). In each case, the ‘M’ Technique reduced terminal
Hundreds of case studies and case series followed. Here is just a small selection.
Lori Mitchell, a critical care nurse in Kalispell Hospital, Kalispell, Montana, found
that the hand ‘M’ Technique calmed patients in intensive care before extubation
(1999). Aileen Nathan, a midwife on Long Island, used the hand ‘M’ Technique
to help a patient with pregnancy-induced hypertension to relax and it reduced her
blood pressure (2000). Dawn Marino, another midwife, used the foot ‘M’ technique
to help her laboring mothers (2004). In 2004, a small randomized, controlled pilot
study (n = 10) was carried out in the pediatric unit at Harris Methodist Medical Center, Fort Worth, TX. The ‘M’ Technique appeared to reduce perception of
pain in infants following circumcision (Raquepo 2004). Measuring tools were a
cardiorespiratory monitor, a blood pressure monitor, an O2 saturation monitor,
and the Neonatal Infant Pain Scale (NIPS). The ‘M’ Technique was performed
2 hours after circumcision using Eucerin cream. The babies receiving the ‘M’ Technique appeared to be in less pain and had increased O2 saturation (three babies had
a 5% increase in O2, two babies had a 20-50% decrease on the NIPS). All babies in
the control group had increased heart rate and their pain scale increased. The pilot
study was followed from 2006 to 2008 with a larger randomized, controlled trial
that replicated the original findings. Sadly, the PI never found the time to publish
the results.
The year 2005 brought an amazing opportunity and, with it, a breakthrough. I
was awarded a government-funded scholarship to attend a full-time, 2-year postdoctoral Master of Science (MSc) training in Epidemiology and Biostatistics within
the School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. As part of my MSc,
SECTION I | Overview
I was able to conduct research that would otherwise have been beyond my reach.
With help from a government grant, and partially funded by the American Massage Foundation, we carried out a case series and longitudinal study, comparing
the ‘M’ Technique to conventional Swedish massage using brain imaging. We used
single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT). A radiopharmaceutical
was injected intravenously into subjects before and after SPECT and the scans compared across 65 areas of the brain.
The results were very interesting. Compared with conventional massage, the
effect of the ‘M’ Technique lit up different areas of the brain and the effect appeared
to be more profound. We repeated the study after 10 weeks of once-weekly massage
or 10 weeks of once-weekly ‘M’ Technique. The results were similar, and this time
there was a bonus. The effects of the ‘‘Technique appeared to be cumulative—much
more than conventional massage. Also, the ‘M’ Technique participant stated that
“‘time disappeared’ as she ‘drifted in and out of wakefullness.’” The participant who
received conventional Swedish massage did not experience the same feeling. This
appeared to give credence to what so many people had said over the years—that the
‘M’ Technique was different to massage and its effects were different. The research
findings were presented at the American Massage Therapy conference in Cincinnati, Ohio, USA, in September 2007 and later published in the Journal of Alternative
and Complementary Medicine (Buckle et al 2008).
In 2014, the use of the ‘M’ Technique is documented in the UK, United States, The
Netherlands, South Africa, Japan, and Australia.
United Kingdom
Hospitals and Hospices
The ‘M’ Technique is used in over 40 hospices in the UK (Table 6-1) and it is beginning to be integrated into the National Health System (NHS), beginning with University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire of the NHS Trust. This is one of the
largest acute teaching hospitals in the UK, with 1250 beds and 27 operating rooms.
The special Hospital (hand and foot) ‘M’ Technique course has been taught to several groups of staff and a special ‘M’ Technique trainer course will allow hospital
trainers to teach the ‘M’ Technique to staff throughout the entire hospital. It is
hoped that other hospitals will follow. See Table 6-2 for some hospitals that use the
‘M’ Technique. In 2014, just over 600 people had taken the ‘M’ Technique practitioner course in the UK. Many others have taken the 4-hour course for use in
hospices, hospitals, long-term care facilities, and special needs schools. There are 10
UK-based instructors.
Special Needs
The ‘M’ Technique is useful for patients with special needs as the repetitive nature
of the technique is very soothing. Breen Rickerby and Cordell (2012) wrote about
CHAPTER 6 | The ‘M’ Technique®
TABLE 6-1 A Selection of UK Hospices using the ‘M’ Technique
(in Alphabetical Order)
Acorns Children’s Hospice
Bury St. Edmunds Hospice
Deans Forest Hospice
Dorothy Hospice
Eden Vale Hospice
Farleigh Hospice
John Eastwood Hospice
John Taylor Hospice
Kemp Hospice
Leckhampton Court Hospice
Mary Anne Evans Hospice
Myrton Hospice
Peace Hospice
Pendleside Hospice
Primrose Hospice
Shakespeare Hospice
Shalom House
St. Christopher’s House
St. Elizabeth Hospice
St. Francis Hospice
St. Francis Hospice
St. Giles Hospice
St. Giles Hospice
St. Helena’s Hospice
St. Luke’s Hospice
St. Michael’s Hospice
St. Peter’s Hospice
St. Richard’s Hospice
Trinity Hospice
Wakefield Hospice
Bury St. Edmunds
Bradford Upon Avon
North Harrow
Stratford Upon Avon
St. Davids
Sutton Coldfield
West Midlands
West Midlands
Pembrokeshire, Wales
West Midlands
*The name of one hospice in Dublin, Ireland, is included.
using the ‘M’ Technique at an orphanage in Belarus. The children were severely
disabled from the Chernobyl disaster and had been abandoned by their families. In
one case, the sensory interpretation of touch appeared to change after a 10-year-old
boy (E) with cerebral palsy received the ‘M’ Technique on his back every day for 1
week. Each session lasted only 8 minutes. During the first ‘M’ Technique session,
SECTION I | Overview
TABLE 6-2 A Selection of UK Hospitals using the ‘M’ Technique
(in Alphabetical Order)
Addenbrooks Hospital (Wallace Cancer Care)
Cheltenham General Hospital
Hornsea Palliative Day Care Hospital
University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire
NHS Trust
Whipps Cross Hospital
West Midlands
E hardly stopped moving around his cot. However, after the first few strokes of
the second ‘M’ Technique, E stopped moving around and lay quietly on his stomach until the session was completed. He appeared less agitated for the rest of the
afternoon. He was more content in himself—no longer grabbing at toys and then
immediately discarding them. In another case, a 12-year-old girl with cerebral palsy,
microcephaly, autism, and a history of self-harming received the ‘M’ Technique to
her feet for 4 minutes every day for 1 week. After the first session she stopped selfharming. She was unable to speak, but after the first session of the ‘M’ Technique,
she began making sounds, and tried to interact with her caregivers for the very first
time (Breen Rickerby & Cordell 2012).
Mary Bolton, a nurse, used the ‘M’ Technique on a 7-year-old girl (A) with
severe metabolic disorder that resulted in complex seizures and severe learning disabilities. Because many of the little girl’s seizures happened at night, disrupting A’s
sleep, both she and her parents were very tired. Mary used the ‘M’ Technique on
A. This took some time, because A would keep wandering off to play. However,
over the space of 1 hour, Mary managed to do the ‘M’ Technique on A’s face, back,
hands, and feet while A’s mother and aunt watched. Mary repeated the ‘M’ Technique sessions on A’s mother and then her aunt as they each watched, so they themselves would be able to do the ‘M’ Technique on A. While Mary pointed out that the
‘M’ Technique was not going to change A’s diagnosis or prognosis, she felt it was a
valuable tool that empowered A’s family, calmed A so she could sleep, and thus gave
the family some respite. Mary wrote: “Now, I understand why this is a technique
rather than a massage” (Bolton 2014).
The Elderly
Barbara Probert (2014) wrote about her work in a residential home for the elderly
in Dorset. One patient was a 91-year-old lady (T) with many medical problems. She
was still grieving for her husband who had died 4 years previously. Her only daughter lived abroad and she had no other living relatives. Barbara started using the ‘M’
Technique on her hands, feet, and on her clothed back as T leaned forward against
a table with cushions to support her. Over the weeks, Barbara progressed to using
the ‘M’ Technique on T’s bare back. T said no other person had touched her except
CHAPTER 6 | The ‘M’ Technique®
her husband. When Barbara began the ‘M’ Technique back sequence, T relaxed and
afterward said she felt comforted. Barbara’s comment was that it was a privilege to
be able to give T a better quality of life. Christiane Mills (2014) wrote about ‘M’ing
her 93-year-old mother. Christiane is also trained in massage and wrote an interesting observation in her case study. She felt the ‘M’ Technique was “a more loving
way of touching” than massage.
End of Life
Roberts and Campbell (2011) wrote about using the ‘M’ Technique as therapy
for patients at the end of life in St. Richard’s Hospice, Worcestershire. One of the
patients was a 45-year-old woman (S) with end-stage multiple sclerosis (MS). S had
decided against treatment with percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy (PEG) feeding, a urinary catheter, or intravenous antibiotics. She was receiving morphine for
the pain in her legs and hyoscine for her abdominal discomfort, both via a syringe
driver. Despite an additional bolus of morphine, she was groaning in pain. While
the nurses prepared IV midazolam to help relax her, S received the hand ‘M’ Technique. By the time the midazolam was given, her pain had been reduced from 10
to 5 (scale 0-10). S drifted into a light sleep and died peacefully the following day.
Cancer Care
Danielle Webster (2014) wrote of her work with Macmillan Cancer Complementary
Therapy Services at her local hospital. Danielle was assigned to a woman (D) with
bowel cancer and metastases who had previously received conventional massage.
Her understanding of English was limited. She had been very anxious throughout
the massage and had been unable to relax. She appeared very frail and she had
extensive arthritis. Danielle did a full body ‘M’ Technique on D, and by the end
of it D was asleep. At the second session, her daughter said that following the ‘M’
Technique her mother had slept very well (unusual for her), and after awakening,
her mother had wanted to go out. Her mother had not had the energy or inclination
to go out for some time and Danielle was delighted with the change.
The Netherlands
The ‘M’ Technique is used on children and infants in the intensive care unit (ICU)
of the Erasmus Medical Center, Rotterdam (van Dijk 2013). The Erasmus Medical
center is the largest, and one of the most authoritative, scientific university medical centers in Europe (Erasmus 2014). Marjan de Jong was the first nurse who
integrated the ‘M’ Technique into the hospital in 2008. Since then, over 30 staff
members have been trained in the ‘M’ Technique. Marjan also conducted research
using the ‘M’ Technique on infants immediately following major craniofacial surgery (de Jong 2011). Although the study found that the ‘M’ Technique did not
benefit children in this category, the author does write that the ‘M’ Technique was,
and is, of great value for patients suffering from other conditions because it gives
the opportunity to touch patients in a positive way. It can also be a comforting
mechanism for patients with withdrawal symptoms (i.e., “crack babies”). By 2014,
SECTION I | Overview
55 people had taken the ‘M’ Technique practitioner training course in The Netherlands. This number does not include those who have taken the Hospital (hand and
foot) course, or those using the hand ‘M’ Technique as part of nursing care. There
are currently five instructors in The Netherlands.
By 2014, 60 people had taken the ‘M’ Technique practitioner course in Japan. Practitioner courses were held in Osaka and Kobe and several 4-hour hand and foot ‘M’
Technique courses have also been held. I taught the first group of courses myself;
now the ‘M’ Technique training is being continued by the Holistic Care Professional
School (HCPS) in Kobe. The ‘M’ Technique is used on patients in the palliative care
department of Himeji Medical Center (Himeji City, Hyogo) and for elderly care in
Meikai hospital (Akashi City, Hyogo) by Masumi Kanagawa (an aromatherapist).
Junko Masuda uses the ‘M’ Technique on patients in the palliative care department
of Senri Chuo hospital. Masumi says the patients like the light touch very much.
Yukiko Shibata uses the ‘M’ Technique in the care of the elderly department at Meikai Hospital (Akashi City, Hyogo). She also uses the ‘M’ Technique in the palliative
care department of Senri Chuo Hospital (Toyonaka City, Osaka) and Okubo Hospital (Akashi City, Hyogo). Yukiko says she uses the ‘M’ Technique for pain relief
and relaxation in patients who have bony metastasis or systemic metastasis and
for those who are very anxious. There are currently eight instructors with another
instructor course planned for late 2014 to be held at HCPS in Kobe.
South Africa
In Cape Town, there is one instructor, Linda-Anne O’Flaherty, and by 2014, there
were 18 ‘M’ Technique practitioners in South Africa. Linda-Anne uses the ‘M’ Technique in the Red Cross Memorial Hospital, particularly in the burns unit (Daniels
& O’Flaherty 2010). Linda-Anne works at relaxing the children before having their
burn dressings removed. This is a very stressful time for the children. Linda is now
part of the hospital pain team and uses the ‘M’ Technique wherever it is required
(O’Flaherty 2014).
Carol Swanepoel wrote very movingly of her work with a 52-year-old recovering alcoholic lady who had been divorced for many years and lived alone. After
starting the 12-step program, her life became a bit more manageable. However,
several bouts of bronchitis made her try to give up smoking. This was unsuccessful
and pushed her back into drinking. She was filled with self-loathing. A diagnosis of
advanced metastatic brain cancer resulted in her being referred to palliative care.
During counseling she refused all offers of comfort. However, slowly she accepted
the idea that the ‘M’ Technique might be a treatment rather than, what she perceived was, an indulgence. Rather grudgingly she allowed Carol to use the ‘M’ Technique on her hands and feet. Her comment afterward was “well, that wasn’t too
bad!” As her cancer progressed her headaches worsened, and morphine no longer
seemed to help. In desperation, she decided to accept a full body ‘M’ Technique
treatment from Carol. Afterward, she lay very still (unusual for her) before she
CHAPTER 6 | The ‘M’ Technique®
began crying silently. Then she asked if Carol could repeat the ‘M’ Technique again
the next day. Carol did so and then visited her daily, doing whatever part of the ‘M’
Technique she preferred. The patient died 2 weeks later with Carol ‘M’ing her feet.
Carol wrote: “what greater gift can one receive than to be allowed into another’s
private world of chaos and see it transformed into the peace of acceptance that
becomes holy ground?” (Swanepoel 2014).
United States
The ‘M’ Technique is used in many hospitals in the United States and is accepted as
part of holistic nursing care (American Holistic Nurses Association 2014). One of
the earliest hospitals to train its nurses in the ‘M’ Technique was The Valley Hospital, Ridgewood, New Jersey (2001). Since then, nurses from every department have
received training in the ‘M’ Technique. Currently, approximately 40% of nurses
use the hand ‘M’ Technique as part of their daily nursing care (Mazzer 2014). In the
Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), Baby ‘M’ is being studied. Initial signs are
good—premature babies are responding well to this nurturing, positive touch by
the nursing staff, and their parents are enjoying learning something to soothe their
baby (Bischoff 2012). Peg Bischoff, who is conducting the research, presented her
initial findings at the 6th Annual Meeting of the National Association of Neonatal
Nurses in 2013 and won first prize for the Best Neonatal Nursing Abstract submission from Elsevier (publisher of the Journal of Neonatal Nursing).
Baby ‘M’ research is also being carried out at the Children’s Hospital, St Louis,
MO. Dr. Joan Smith PhD, RN presented her findings at the St. Louis Children’s
Hospital’s 8th Annual Multidisciplinary Research/EBP Conference in 2011 and
published them in 2012 (Smith et al 2012). Baby ‘M’ training is only available to
experienced NICU personnel because it is important that the caregiver can understand premature infant cues (Smith 2014). However, certified baby ‘M’ practitioners can show parents of infants in the NICU how to soothe their infants.
As of 2014, there were 16 certified ‘M’ Technique instructors in the United States.
They are located in CT, MA, MI, NJ, NY, OK, PA, SD, TX, and WA. After myself,
Kathy Duffy has probably taught the most ‘M’ Technique courses. Because the ‘M’
Technique was originally part of the Certified Clinical Aromatherapy Practitioner (CCAP) course, those graduating before 2004 are ‘M’ Technique practitioners
as well as CCAPs. ‘M’ Technique courses have been taught in almost every state in
the United States.
Nursing practice developed from the care of people’s bodies using touch (Atkinson
et al 2010). Yet today nurses seem apprehensive and unwilling to touch patients.
Instrumental or procedural touch is taught in nursing school as part of assessment
and procedures, but expressive or comfort touch is rarely taught as part of nursing
care. This is a great pity because knowing how to touch patients in a way that can
reassure them is a very useful tool that can empower nurses and enable them to do
SECTION I | Overview
what they became nurses to do—make people feel better. Not every patient wants
to be touched, but a great many really appreciate the comfort of touch (O’Lynn
& Krautscheid 2011). Research shows that touch can also emphasize the patient’s
belief in treatment (Guengen & Vion 2009).
Today, many nurses struggle with an overload of paperwork and computer
work. Nurses spend as much time (if not more) watching monitor screens as they
do watching patients. Compassion fatigue is a phenomenon commonly experienced by nurses (Romano et al 2013). Do nurses even have time to feel compassion? And when they do, how can nurses show compassion in an acceptable way?
How can compassion be shown in a simple way that does not take too much time,
but makes the nurse feel better, as well as the patient? The ‘M’ Technique may be
the answer. The practice of touch is a tool that Dr. Jean Watson, a nursing theorist,
placed within a caring–healing model (Watson 2006; Watson 2008; Watson 2009).
The very act of touching can show caring (Gale & Hegerty 2000) and the very act
of touching can empower the caregiver (Buckle 2013). As it is accepted as part of
holistic nursing, why not use the ‘M’ Technique (Jackson & Latini 2013)?
I had a hip replacement a few years ago—major surgery that necessitated several days in hospital because things did not go to plan. During the first 4 days I was
an inpatient, no one touched me. I felt horribly miserable and depressed—very
unusual for me. On the fifth day, a young male nurse put a hand on my shoulder and asked “Are you OK?” I burst into tears with gratitude that someone cared
enough to touch me. I told him, I felt so down and that was very unlike me. The
nurse listened carefully. A subsequent blood test showed a previously over-looked
very low hemoglobin. (After three pints of blood, I felt much more like me.) That
hand-on-the-shoulder experience confirmed what I had been teaching for so many
years—how comforting it is to be touched. And how it then becomes possible to
say how you really feel.
When people are deprived of touch for a period of time, they suffer from skin
hunger (Montagu 1986). I remember doing the hand ‘M’ Technique on an elderly
gentleman in a long-term care facility many years ago. Silent tears began to pour
down his face. “Am I hurting you?” I asked. He shook his head. “Shall I stop?” I
inquired. He shook his head again. I finished the 5-minute hand ‘M’ Technique.
After a few minutes, he swallowed and then said, “You are the first person to touch
me since my wife died.” “When did she die?” I asked. He replied, “3 years ago.”
Today, healthcare is a business where every intervention has a price tag. But
what about an intervention that has no price tag and yet is priceless? So let’s start a
revolution. Next time, you see a patient, put your hand on their arm, or their shoulder and see how they respond. Then go and learn the ‘M’ Technique!
Twelve years ago I wrote the following, and I still feel the same way: “The ‘M’
Technique is my life’s work. It is what I am meant to do and what I hope to do for as
long as I can.” Being really present with a frightened, critically ill or dying person is at
the very heart of being human. We are human beings, not human doings. But sometimes, it is hard to just “be.” It can be uncomfortable “being” with someone you care
about when you cannot fix the problem. The ‘M’ Technique is a tool that gives you
CHAPTER 6 | The ‘M’ Technique®
something to do when nothing else can be done. It allows you to speak with your
hands and “be” the best you can be under the circumstances. Mary Mazzer, a nurse
at The Valley Hospital and one of the first to train in the ‘M’ Technique, wrote “the
‘M’ Technique enables you to enter a spiritual dance with the strokes as the music.”
It is my dream that the ‘M’ Technique will one day become part of standard nursing
care everywhere. It is my dream that no one will die in a hospital or a hospice without being comforted by their relatives using the ‘M’ Technique. Being able to share
the ‘M’ Technique has been a real privilege. Thank you for reading this chapter.
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Jackson C, Latini C. 2013. Touch and hand-mediated therapies. In Holistic Nursing: A Handbook for
Practice. 6th edition. Ed. Montgomery Dossey B, Keegan L. pp 417-437.
Katz J. 1999. Hand & Foot ‘M’ Technique at end of life. Unpublished RJBA dissertation.
Kornfield J. 2000. After the Ecstasy, the Laundry. London: Rider, 223.
Marino D. 2004. The ‘M’ Technique in labor. Unpublished RJBA dissertation.
Mazzer M. Valley Hospital. Ridgewood. NJ. Personal communication. 2005.
Montagu A. 1986. Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin. Harper & Row. NY, USA.
Mills C. 2014. Case-studies for ‘M’ Technique Practitioner certification.
Mitchell L. 1999. Aromatherapy and the ‘M’ Technique in ICU. Unpublished RJBA dissertation.
Nathan A. 2000. Aromatherapy and the ‘M’ Technique in pregnancy-induced hypertension. Unpublished RJBA dissertation.
SECTION I | Overview
Ocampo A. 2001. Hand ‘M’ Technique at end of life. Unpublished RJBA dissertation.
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Webster D. ‘M’ Technique case-study for practitioner certification.
Section II
Clinical Use of
| Infection
| Insomnia
| Nausea and Vomiting
| Pain and Inflammation
| Stress and Well-Being
his part of the book focuses on how aromatherapy could be used clinically.
It is divided into two sections: Section 2: a general section and Section 3: a
specialized section.
In this general clinical section, I have focused on five main symptom areas.
In alphabetic order they are: infection, insomnia, nausea and vomiting, pain and
inflammation, stress and well-being. These symptoms have far-reaching effects on
the quality and cost of healthcare, and are of interest to a wide range of readers.
With Western medicine at a breaking point, clinical aromatherapy might relieve
some of the pressure. For example, Zofran is a powerful drug for nausea. But, sometimes it is worth trying an anti-emetic essential oil first. Please see Chapter 9.
The chapter on infection was an exciting one to update, because there is now
much more published evidence on the effectiveness of essential oils against all kinds
of infection, as well as against hospital-acquired infection (HAI) and drug-resistant pathogens. This chapter discusses each pathogen individually, and a table of
published studies on the antimicrobial effect of essential oils against that specific
pathogen is presented. These studies are encouraging, particularly as the power of
conventional antibiotics appears to be waning.
The chapters on insomnia and on nausea and vomiting are arranged by essential oil. However, the chapter on pain covers a much larger area and so it is arranged
differently. It begins by looking at conventional approaches to pain and then looks
at different ways of using essential oils for pain. The stress and well-being chapter concentrates on stress for patients, staff and visitors, with separate sections on
burnout and posttraumatic stress.
Microbes maketh man. People are not just people. They are an awful lot of
microbes too.
The Economist, August 19, 2012
TABLE 7-10
TABLE 7-11
TABLE 7-12
TABLE 7-13
Databases Searched for Specific Pathogens and Essential Oils, 131
Common Hospital-Acquired Infections and Area of the Body, 134
Essential Oils Effective Against Pseudomonas in vitro, 135
Essential Oils Effective Against MRSA in vitro and in vivo, 137
Essential Oils Effective Against E. coli in vitro, 138
Essential Oils Effective Against Streptococcus, 138
Essential Oils Effective Against Acinetobacter baumannii in vitro, 139
Essential Oils Effective Against Klebsiella pneumonia in vitro, 140
Essential Oils Effective Against Clostridium difficile in vitro, 140
Databases Searched Using Virus Name AND “Essential Oil,” 150
Antiviral Essential Oils Against HSV1 and HSV2, 151
Antiviral Essential Oils, 151
Essential Oils Effective Against Cryptococcus spp., 153
FIGURE 7-1 | Structure of viruses, 149
For the number of articles on specific pathogens and essential oils consulted for
this chapter please see Table 7-1. Infection is the successful invasion, establishment and growth of a micro-organism, on the body surface or in the tissue of the
host that results in a tissue reaction (Brooker 2008). Infection is mainly caused by
a pathogenic organism such as a bacteria, virus, or fungus. There are other infections caused by disease-carrying insects or parasites, but these will not be covered
in this chapter. Infectious diseases used to be the most common cause of death
CHAPTER 7 | Infection
TABLE 7-1 Databases Searched for Specific Pathogens and Essential Oils
Number of articles found in 2013
Acinetobacter B
Clostridium difficile
E. coli
E. faecalis
Klebsiella pneumoniae
Proteus mirabilis
Pseudomonas aeruginosa
Serratia marcescens
Staphylococcus aureus
(MacSween & Whaley 1992). With the advent of new infectious diseases, and the
reoccurrence of diseases that are now resistant to conventional medicines, perhaps
infectious diseases will again become the most common cause of death. Since the
second edition of this book, the world has seen bird-flu in 2003 (still occurring in
China and a few other parts of the world), the H1N1 virus and the norovirus—a nasty
vomiting bug that spreads within hours. Smallpox may have been eradicated, and the
incidence of diphtheria and polio greatly reduced, but the emergence of mutated and
drug-resistant pathogens is worrying. According to the World Health Organization,
tuberculosis (TB) is second only to HIV/AIDS as the greatest killer worldwide that is
caused by a single pathogen. In 2011, nearly 9 million people fell ill with TB and 1.4
million people died from it (http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs104/en/).
Multiple-drug-resistant TB was present in 80% of those infected. Several essential oils
are effective against TB in vitro (Machan 2006; Başer et al 2009; Crandall 2012) and in
vivo (Sherry et al 2004). Some are effective against MRTB (Bueno et al 2011) and others may enhance the effect of antibiotics and perhaps make them effective once more.
Antibiotic resistance is rapidly becoming the new norm for all classes of microorganisms (Ena et al., 1993). For example, resistant gonorrhea, a sexually transmitted bacteria, has emerged in several countries, which is resistant to ciprofloxacin,
penicillin, and tetracycline (Tsai et al 2013). Cholera, once killed by chlorine, has reemerged resistant to many antibiotics (Chomvarin et al 2012; Waturangi et al 2013).
Malaria, spread by mosquitoes in the tropics, had mutated to become drug-resistant
(Ndiaye et al 2013) and malaria-bearing mosquitoes have been found in Greece
(Zeller et al 2013). The incidence of West Nile fever—also carried by ­mosquitos—is
increasing in the United States and South Africa. It has also been found in Israel,
Italy, and Greece (Arnold 2012). Essential oil of spearmint (Mentha spicata)
SECTION II | Clinical Use of Aromatherapy
has a significant toxic effect against early third-stage larvae of three types of
mosquito: C. quinquefasciatus, A. aegypti, and A. stephensi (Govindarajan et al
2012). The drug artemisinin (made from the plant Artemisia annua) contains the
antimalarial sesquiterpene lactone. Artemisinin combination treatment (ACT)
is the recommended treatment of choice in Indonesia (where resistant malaria is
rampant) (Harijanto, 2010) and is consistent with the WHO (World Health Organization) recommendation (Greenwood et al 2008). It would be interesting to see
some research on essential oil of Artemisia annua (sweet wormwood) for malaria.
However, research found Anethum graveolens, Apium graveolens, Carum carvi, Curcuma longa, Cyminum cyminum, Foeniculum vulgare, Melia azedarach, Petroselium
crispum and Piper nigrum enhanced conventional insecticides against mosquitoes
(Mansour et al 2012).
The number of people infected with the virus herpes (HSV1 and HSV2) worldwide has reached more than 500 million (http://www.who.int/en/). Now there is
a drug-resistant strain of HSV1 and 2 (Krawczyk 2013). Despite improved living
conditions in many countries, viral infections like the common cold and influenza
are still major causes of working days lost. Indeed, influenza appears to be growing
ever more virulent with the emergence of A/H1N1 and its declared global pandemic
(Lapidus et al 2013; Kandel et al 2012; Gupta et al 2013).
Drug-resistant Candida albicans, a fungal infection, has spread worldwide as
fluconazole, the drug of choice, has become ineffective (Oliveira et al 2013). Candida is a real challenge to immune-compromised patients (Chien et al 2013).
Many common parasites are becoming resistant to pharmaceutical products—
for example, malaria, head lice, and scabies. Parasites affecting non-human species
have also demonstrated resistance, for example, the varroa mite that attacks honeybees. In the United States, 90% of wild honeybees have been killed following an
infestation of varroa mites that had become resistant to conventional pesticides. It
is thought the mites came on illegally imported bees several years ago. Honeybees
have been dying off in many countries, although it is disputed by some whether
the loss is due to mites or the extensive use of pesticides in farming, particularly
nicotine-based pesticides such as clothianidin and thiamethoxam (Badiou-Bénéteau et al 2012). Although this is a book on clinical aromatherapy, readers might be
interested to hear of a study conducted by one of my students, Brock (2004), a nurse
and beekeeper. Fifty hives were selected from five farms (10 hives each). Treatment
was randomized to one of three groups: 2.5% tea tree (Melaleuca alternfolia), 2.5%
spearmint (Mentha spicata), or the control (CheckMite). A white paper towel was
placed on top of the main chamber below the inner cover. The diluted essential oil
was applied to four lines. Hives were marked with the water-resistant letters, S, T,
or C. The results showed only 1 hive out of 10 treated with tea tree had mites when
the hives were reopened a month later. This was better than the hives treated with
CheckMite or spearmint where mites remained in two hives.
Hospital-Acquired Infections
Being a hospital patient brings with it an increased threat of HAI. The incidence
of HAI has risen substantially over the last 10 years and with it, the incidence of
CHAPTER 7 | Infection
multiple-drug-resistant HAI. Hospital-acquired resistant infections (HARI) are
now the fourth leading cause of death in the United States (Buhner 2013). There
is now a specific journal on this topic (Journal of Hospital Infection) and an international conference on Hospital Infection. Mortality, cost, and length of stay are
significantly higher in patients with HAIs compared with patients without HAIs
(Graves et al 2007; Glance et al 2013; Roberts et al 2010). The overall estimated
yearly costs vary between 4.56 billion dollars in the United States to 1.09 billion
pounds in the UK. In Italy, estimated costs are 2.5 to 5.0 billion euros per year, with
the cost of a single case ranging from 9000 to 10,500 Euro (Agozzino et al 2008).
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) was the first multiple-resistant
pathogen. The latest one is Acinetobacter baumannii (Acinetobacter B). Acinetobacter B infection has become so serious that in 2013 there was a conference dedicated to it in Cologne, Germany (www.acinetobacter2013.com).
Wound infections occur in 2% of all surgical procedures and account for 20%
of HAI (de Lissovoy et al 2009). In a UK study, catheter-associated bacteremic
urinary tract infections (UTIs) caused by HAI were significantly associated with
7-day mortality (Melzer & Welch 2013). The main pathogens involved were Escherichia coli, Proteus mirabilis, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa (in order of prevalence).
Of these, over 25% were multiple-drug resistant. There were similar instances in
France, where one third of all hospital patients contracted an HAI (pneumonia,
bacteremia, or UTI). The main pathogens involved were Aspergillus spp. (59.2%)
for pneumonia, coagulase-negative Staphylococcus (44.2%) for bacteremia and
Enterobacteria (60%) for UTI (Huoi et al 2013). In the United States, such is the
extent of hospital-acquired UTIs due to urinary catheters that, from 2008, some
hospitals are being denied payment from health insurance companies (Meddings
et al 2012). The incidence of HAI is compounded by patients who are admitted to
hospital with community-acquired MRSA (Abdallah et al 2013).
For a list of the most common hospital-acquired pathogens and areas of the
body, please see Table 7-2. The cause of infection can be poor hospital hygiene,
infected visitors, and those carrying infection, or can occur as a result of self-infection. Sometimes infection can be due to the enforced relocation of a commensal.
(A commensal is a bacterium that is symbiotic to the health of its host. However,
when the commensal is transplanted to another part of the body, an infection
ensues. A common example is E. coli. E coli is fine in the gut, but causes cystitis in
the urinary tract.)
Common Hospital-Acquired Infection
Pseudomonas aeruginosa
P. aeruginosa has become common in hospitals as the cause of urinary, wound, and
respiratory infections. Sometimes it is overlooked as a possible cause of bacteremia
(Gellen-Dautremer et al 2011). A strictly aerobic, gram-negative bacillus, P. aeruginosa flourishes in water and aqueous solutions. The organism produces a pigment
called pyocyanin, as well as fluorescein, and these compounds together create the
characteristic blue-green, musty-smelling pus (Brooker 2008). Pseudomonas is now
SECTION II | Clinical Use of Aromatherapy
TABLE 7-2 Common Hospital-Acquired Infections and Area of the Body
Site of HAI
Serratia marcescens
Pseudomonas aeruginosa
Acinetobacter baumannii
Shime et al 2013
Kuang et al 2013
Rattanaumpawan et al
Deal et al 2009
Mezzatesta et al 2012
Ahmed et al 2013
Melzer & Welch 2013
Mishra et al 2013
Neuner et al 2012
Shigemura et al 2009
Shigemura et al 2013
Uvizl et al 2011
Junkins et al 2013
Lopes et al 2012
Reissig et al 2013
El-Saed et al 2013
Barbier et al 2013
Misteli et al 2011
Ahmed-Bentley et al 2013
Elliott et al 2010
Posluszny et al 2011
Pastar et al 2013
Urinary tract
Citrobacter freundii
ESBL-producing Enterobacter spp.
Escherichia coli
Proteus mirabilis
Pseudomonas aeruginosa
Serratia marcescens
Klebsiella pneumoniae
Pseudomonas aeruginosa
Burkholderia cepacia complex
Escherichia coli
Acinetobacter baumannii
Staphylococcus aureus
Escherichia coli
Serratia marcescens
Pseudomonas aeruginosa
resistant to most antibiotics (Jwu-Ching et al 2012). Nearly 70% of people with
cystic fibrosis are chronically infected with this bacterium. Mechanical ventilation
and previous exposure to the antibiotics imipenem and meropenem are risk factors for multiple-drug-resistant Pseudomonas (MDRP) infection (Shu et al 2012).
Pseudomonas also has the ability to create biofilm—this is when the bacteria ooze a
sticky substance that allows them to adhere to smooth surfaces. Please see Table 7-3
for essential oils effective against P. aeruginosa.
Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus
Staphylococceus aureus is a gram-positive spherical bacteria that groups together
and, under the microscope, looks like bunches of grapes. The bacteria is yellow,
hence its name, aureus—from the Latin ‘aurum’ meaning golden. Methicillinresistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is resistant to flucloxacillin and has been
responsible for outbreaks of infection throughout the world (Tavares 2013; Nichol
et al 2013; Rodrigues et al 2013). Staphylococcus wound infections tend to remain
localized, possibly because of the production of coagulase that causes plasma to
thicken (Brooker 2008). However, MRSA can infect any part of the body. For
Common Name
Botanical Name
Results MIC
Opalchenova &
Mahboubi et al
Ocimum basilicum
0.0030% and 0.0007% (v/v)
32-64 μg/mL
Ratio 3:1:1 showed strong
synergy with gentamicin
0.015-0.25 mL
0.125 to 256 μg/mL
Tyagi & Malik
Bouhdid et al
Kavanaugh &
Eugenia caryophyllata
Lavandula angustifolia
Pelargonium graveolens
Cuminum cyminium
Zataria ­multiflora
Myrtus ­communis
Eucalyptus camaldulensis
Cymbopogon citratus
Mentha ­arvensis
Mentha piperita
Eucalyptus globulus
Cinnamomum verum
Cinnamomum aromaticum
Hosseini et al
Owlia et al
True myrtle
River red gum
Corn mint
Blue gum
Cinnamon bark
Broth dilution
CHAPTER 7 | Infection
TABLE 7-3 Essential Oils Effective Against Pseudomonas in vitro
0.567 mg/mL
0.567 mg/mL
1.125. mg/mL
2.25 mg/mL
0.125% (v/v)
0.2% dilution prevented
SECTION II | Clinical Use of Aromatherapy
example, MRSA UTIs can also lead to bacteremia (Shigemura 2013). MRSA pneumonia is common in ventilated (and non-ventilated) hospital patients (Barbier et al
2013). MRSA is also common in burns units (Rodrigues et al 2013). Patients admitted to the hospital for scheduled operations are routinely tested for MRSA and,
where necessary, topical mupirocin is used to eliminate nasal or skin carriage. The
spread of MRSA can be contained with scrupulous environmental cleaning, hand
washing, and isolation (Brooker 2008; Hess et al 2013). Please see Table 7-4 for
some of the essential oils that are effective against MRSA.
Vancomycin-Resistant Escherichia coli
Escherichia is a gram-negative bacterium, which under the microscope is shaped like
a rod with a small tail. It is widely distributed in nature (Brooker 2008). Escherichia
coli (E. coli) is part of the normal intestinal flora. Some strains are pathogenic and
can cause gastroenteritis, UTI, meningitis, and wound infections. Some serotypes
of E. coli can produce toxins that result in blood-stained diarrhea or hemolyticuremic syndrome. Vancomycin-resistant E. coli (VRE) is one of the most common
causes of infection in hospitals, accounting for up to 20% of all infections (Zhanel
2013). It is a frequent cause of UTIs (Tantry & Rahiman 2012; Mishra et al 2013)
and of meningitis in children (Jiang et al 2013). Please see Table 7-5 for essential oils
that are effective against E. coli.
Streptococcus is a gram-positive coccus that, under the microscope, occurs in
chains. There are various varieties—hemolytic and nonhemolytic—and some
produce powerful toxins (Brooker 2008). Some species of Streptococcus are commensals and occur (without any ill effect) in the respiratory and intestinal tracts.
However, some species are pathogenic and can cause serious illnesses. Necrotizing
fasciitis (flesh-eating bacteria) is caused by Streptococcus pyogenes (Brooker 2008).
It is a rare condition but the mortality rate is high. Eight percent of necrotizing
soft tissue infections is attributable to Streptococcal infection and among these, 50%
develop streptococcal toxic shock syndrome. The mortality rate for streptococcal
toxic shock syndrome is approximately 32% (Lanitis et al 2012). Sepsis is now the
leading direct cause of maternal death in the UK and Streptococcus pyogenes is the
leading pathogen (Turner et al 2013). Streptococcus pneumonia caused an outbreak
of severe chest infection in an assisted living facility of whom, 50% needed hospitalization (CDC 2013). Streptococcus pneumoniae is spread by droplet infection. It
causes an estimated 175,000 hospitalizations each year and the fatality rate can be
as high as 60% among the elderly (CDC 2013). Please see Table 7-6 for essential oils
that are effective against Streptococcus.
Acinetobacter baumannii
Acinetobacter baumannii (A. baumannii) is a gram-negative, aerobic bacterium,
which belongs to the family Neisseriaceae. Under the microscope, it looks halfway between a rod and a ball. A. baumannii is a relatively new pathogen and is
Common Name
Botanical Name
Results MIC
Carson et al
Chao et al
Tea tree
Lemon myrtle Mountain
savory Cinnamon
Broth dilution
Disk diffusion
Inhibition zones = 60 mm
Lemongrass inhibited
every strain of MRSA
Roller et al
Disc diffusion
Combined lavenders had
best results
Doran et al
Tohidpour et al
Disc and
Disk diffusion
Khanavi et al
True lavender
Spike lavender
Spanish lavender
Castillian lavender
Common thyme
Blue gum
Kotschyam thyme
Melaleuca alternifolia
Cymbopogon citratus
Backhousia citriodora
Satureja montana
Cinnamomum zeylanicum
Melissa officinalis
Lavandula angustifolia,
Lavandula latifolia,
Lavandula stoechas
Lavandula luisieri*
Pelargonium graveolens
Cymbopogon citratus
Thymus vulgaris
Eucalyptus globulus
Thymus kotschyanus
Nedorostova et al
Armoracia rusticana
Origanum syriacum
Allium sativum
Satureja hortensis
Satureja montana
Thymus vulgaris
Thymus serpyllum
Cymbopogon citratus
Eucalyptus globulus
Melaleuca alternifolia
Warnke et al
Syrian marjoram
Summer savory
Winter savory
Common thyme
Breckland thyme
Tea tree
Mixture was 89<70%
18.5 μL/L
85.6 μL/L
Enhances effect of oxacillin
and methicillin × 32
8.3-17 μL/L
8.3-130 μL/L
8.3-530 μL/L
17-130 μL/L
33-260 μL/L
33-260 μL/L
33-530 μL/L
20-29 mm
8-14 mm
9-15 mm
Inhibition zones
*Lavandula luisieri is a subspecies of Lavandula stoechas that is high in necrodane.
Disc diffusion
CHAPTER 7 | Infection
TABLE 7-4 Essential Oils Effective Against MRSA in vitro and in vivo
SECTION II | Clinical Use of Aromatherapy
TABLE 7-5 Essential Oils Effective Against E. coli in vitro
Common Name
Botanical Name
Duarte et al
Palma rosa
MIC 100-500 μg/mL
Si et al
Rath et al
Fisher et al
et al
Bachir &
Tadtong et al
Sweet orange
Blue gum
Oreganum vulgare
Jasminum sambac
Citrus sinensis
Citrus bergamia
Citrus limon
Eucalyptus globulus
Clary sage
Ylang ylang
Salvia sclarea
Cananga odorata
MIC 0.5 μL/mL
MIC 100-500 μg/mL
Orange and
bergamot MIC =
0.25%-0.5% v/v
MIC of 4 μL/mL =
MIC = 0.1%
Used together 3:4:3
much better
TABLE 7-6 Essential Oils Effective Against Streptococcus
Common Name
Botanical Name
Results MIC
Shin & Kim
Cermelli et al
Singh et al
Mahboubi et al
Thymus magnus
Eucalyptus globulus
Mentha piperita
Cymbopogon olivieri
0.125 μL/mL
50 μL/mL
0.5 μL/mL
0.5 μL/mL
Saidi et al
Elaissi et al
Korean thyme
Blue gum
Black thyme
Peppermint box
Thymbra spicata
Eucalyptus odorata
3.12 μL/mL
9.792 μL/mL
thought to have first appeared in military treatment facilities during the Iraq
War (Scott et al 2007). A. baumannii is now common in Intensive Care Units
globally and has rapidly become resistant to most antibiotics. A. baumannii can
infiltrate open wounds, catheters, and ventilation tubes (Bassetti et al 2008). It
causes fatal meningitis (Moon et al 2013) and pneumonia (Durante-Mangoni
et al 2013). Please see Table 7-7 for essential oils that are effective against A.
Klebsiella pneumoniae
Klebsiella is a gram-negative, anaerobic bacterium, which under the microscope is
shaped like a rod. It belongs to the family Enterobacteriaceae and is a normal commensal living in the mouth and gut. However, when Klebsiella becomes transported
CHAPTER 7 | Infection
TABLE 7-7 Essential Oils Effective Against Acinetobacter baumannii in vitro
Botanical Name
Messager et al
Melaleuca alternifolia
Jazani et al
Lorenzi et al
Foeniculum vulgare
Helicrysum italicum
Rosato et al
et al
Yang et al
Aniba rosaeodora
Pelargonium graveolens
Thymus vulgaris
3.9 × 10−3
Enhances chloramphenicol × 8
FIC index = 0.11
Palm ginger
Zingiber corillinum
Duarte et al
Coriandrum sativum
0.25-1.0 μL/mL
MIC 1457.81
MIC between
1 and 4 μL/mL
FIC, Frational inhibitory index.
elsewhere it becomes pathogenic and is commonly associated with UTIs, wounds
and respiratory infections (Brooker 2008). Klebsiella pneumoniae causes serious
pneumonia, particularly in ventilated patients. Klebsiella is now resistant to many
antibiotics including one of the latest antibiotics—carbapenem (Clock et al 2013;
Alp et al 2013). Carbapenemase-resistant Klebsiella pneumoniae (CRKP) is very
challenging to treat, especially in Intensive Care Units (Borer et al 2009; Ben-David
et al 2010; Marchaim et al 2011; Llaca-Díaz et al 2012). Please see Table 7-8 for
essential oils that are effective against Klebsiella.
Clostridum difficile
Clostridum is a large, gram-positive, spore-forming, anaerobic bacterium, which
under the microscope is shaped like a rod (Brooker 2008). It occurs naturally in
the intestinal tract, and also occurs in soil. Clostridium botulinum causes botulism.
Clostridium difficile (C. diff) is a frequently occurring HAI and is the most common
cause of nosocomial diarrhea (CDAD). One of the challenging aspects of treating
CDAD is the recurrence that occurs in approximately 15 to 30% of patients after the
first episode and up to 50 to 60% subsequently (Sears et al 2013). Treatment is with
fidaxomicin, clindamycin, and vancomycin. The incidence and severity of C. diff
have been increasing (Kee 2012). An antibacterial strain is now evident (Huang et al
2009; Shah et al 2010). Pretreating patients will probiotics can prevent infection
with C. diff (Johnston et al 2012) but this is not standard practice in hospitals. This
might be a preferable option to potential fecal microbiotica implantation, although
the latter is 91% successful (Kelly 2012). Please see Table 7-9 for essential oils that
are effective against Clostridium.
SECTION II | Clinical Use of Aromatherapy
TABLE 7-8 Essential Oils Effective Against Klebsiella pneumonia in vitro
Common Name
Botanical Name
et al
Orhan et al
Cuminum ­cyminum
MIC 0.8-3.5 μg/mL
Turkish oregano
Spanish savory
MIC 32 and 64 μg/
mL for all the
essential oils and
against multiple
resistant strains
Saidi et al
et al
Warnke et al
Black thyme
Cuban oregano
Tea tree
Nadir et al
Iranian sage
Foeniculum vulgare
Mentha piperita
Mentha spicata
Ocimum basilicum
Origanum marjorana Origanum
Origanum vulgare
Satureja cuneifolia
Thymbra spicata
Melaleuca alternifolia
Cymbopgon citratus
Eucalyptus globulus
Salvia santolinifolia
MIC = 3.12 μL/mL
MIC = 0.09%
Inhibition zones
22 mm; MIC 300
SEM, Scanning electrode microscopy.
TABLE 7-9 Essential Oils Effective Against Clostridium difficile in vitro
Common Name
Botanical Name
et al
Doran et al
clindamycin × 16
MIC = 0.34
MIC = 2.4
Jeong et al
zeylanicum bark
MIC = 1.0
Multiple-Resistant Serratia marcescens
Serratia marcescens (S. marcescens) is a gram-negative bacillus that occurs naturally in soil and water and produces a red pigment at room temperature. It is
associated with urinary and respiratory infections, endocarditis, osteomyelitis,
septicemia, wound infections, eye infections, and meningitis. Transmission is by
direct contact. Droplets of S. marcescens have been found growing on catheters,
CHAPTER 7 | Infection
and in supposedly sterile solutions. Contaminated intravenous pain control fluids
were the course of an outbreak of S. marcescens in a hospital in Taiwan (Chiang et al 2013). Most strains are resistant to several antibiotics. Between 1951
and 1952, the US Army conducted a study called Operation Sea-Spray to study
wind-currents that might carry biological weapons. They filled balloons with S.
marcescens and burst them over San Francisco. Shortly afterward, doctors noted a
dramatic increase in pneumonia and UTIs (www.sunysccc.edu/academic/mst/mi
crobes/23smarc.htm). S. marcescens in baby shampoo caused multiple infections
in a neonatal ICU in Saudi Arabia (Lima et al., 2011; Madani et al 2011). Prefilled
heparin and saline syringes infected with S. marcescens were the cause of bacteremia in a U.S. hospital (Chemaly et al 2011). S. marcescens was isolated persistently
from the grating and drains of eight central sinks in an Australian ICU (Kotsanas
2013), and S. marcescens was found in the exit ports of oscillators in a Canadian
pediatric ICU (Macdonald et al 2011). There is little research on the use of essential oils on Serratia.
Proteus mirabilis
Proteus is a gram-negative, anaerobic bacterium of the Enterobacteriaceae family
(Brooker 2008). Under the microscope it is rod shaped, motile (can move due to its
flagella) and has a characteristic “swarming” ability that allows it to migrate across
catheter surfaces (Armbruster 2013). Proteus mirabilis and Proteus vulgaris cause
UTIs (Melzer & Welch 2013), wound infections (Bessa et al 2013) and meningitis
(Hammad et al 2011; Juyal et al 2013). Multiple-drug-resistant Proteus mirabilis has
emerged, including resistance to nitrofurantoin and co-trimoxazole, the most preferred antibiotics for UTI (Mishra et al 2013). There is little research on the use of
essential oils on Proteus.
Enterobacter aerogenes and Enterobacter cloacae are gram-negative bacteria that
belong to the family Enterobacteriaceae. They can be both aerobic and anaerobic.
Under the microscope, Enterobacter is rod-shaped with rounded ends. Enterobacter aerogenes and Enterobacter cloacae cause wound (Múñez et al 2012), respiratory
(Wang et al 2012), and urinary tract infections (Edlin 2013). A drug-resistant strain
of Enterobacter aerogenes has emerged (Karlowsky et al 2013). Enterobacter cloacae
can also cause ESBL-bacteremia (extended-spectrum β-lactamase producing bacteria) (Ahmed et al., 2009; Frakking et al 2013). There is little research on the use of
essential oils on Enterobacter.
Citrobacter freundii
Citrobacter freundii is a gram-negative, aerobic bacterium that causes opportunistic infections of the respiratory system, urinary tract, the blood, and several
other normally sterile sites in immune-compromised patients (Whalen et al 2007;
Rosenberger et al 2011) . There is little research on the use of essential oils on
Citrobacter freundii.
SECTION II | Clinical Use of Aromatherapy
Burkholderia cepacia Complex (BCC) or Burkholderia cepacia
BCC or Burkholderia cepacia covers a group of gram-negative bacteria (Lipuma
2005) that can cause pneumonia in immune-compromised patients, especially
those with cystic fibrosis. BCC infection can lead to a rapid decline in those with
lung problems and strict isolation is necessary. BCC can also cause bacteremia
(Rattanaumpawan et al 2013). There is little research on the use of essential oils
on BCC.
Each of the bacteria outlined is becoming more common in hospitals, but there
is a whole range of potential pathogenic organisms that surround us every day.
Bacteria are classified according to their shape. The two main groups of bacteria
are cocci (spherical-shaped) and bacilli (rod-shaped) (Brooker 2008). These two
groups are then subdivided into gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria. (Gram
was the microbiologist who devised the staining method.) Gram staining uses a
mixture of violet dye and iodine to stain the magnesium ribonucleate found in
some bacteria, deep purple. The purple stain cannot be washed out by alcohol. Bacteria that stain purple are gram-positive. Those that stain pink are gram-negative
(Brooker 2008). Mycobacterium (the cause of TB and leprosy) is not revealed by
the gram-stain method and instead is stained with an acid-fast method called the
Ziehl-Nielsen method (Brooker 2008). A second subdivision of bacteria is between
aerobic and anaerobic organisms.
Coccus Bacteria
The cocci bacteria include Staphylococcus, named for the Greek word staphyl,
meaning grapes, because, seen under a microscope, all bacteria have this characteristic shape. Staphylococcus is the cause of many skin infections. Streptococcus often causes throat infections. Other members of the coccus family include
Pneumococcus, which causes pneumonia, and Neisseria, which causes gonorrhea.
Streptococcus can be further classified into A, B, or nonhemolytic types and aerobic
or anaerobic types.
Bacillus Bacteria
The bacillus group are all rod-shaped and include Enterobacteriaceae such as E. coli,
E. faecalis, and Salmonella: all cause diarrhea. It also includes Proteus mirabilis and
Bacillus anthracis that cause proteus and anthrax, respectively. Other bacteria in the
bacillus group include Corynebacterium diphtheriae, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and
M. tuberculosis. Anaerobic bacilli include Clostridium tetani, which causes tetanus,
and C. difficile, which causes pseudomembranous colitis.
In addition to the two main groups, there is another group of organisms that
are neither viruses nor bacteria, but something in between. This group includes
Chlamydia trachomatis that causes genitourinary infections in 50 million women
each year (Darville 2013).
CHAPTER 7 | Infection
Bacteria are the oldest form of life on this planet (Buhner 2013). Their unique
and extraordinary genetic abilities have enabled them to develop multiple mechanisms of resistance for each new antibiotic produced (Davies & Davies 2010).
Global Industry Analysis, a market research company that publishes 1200 fullscale research reports each year, forecasts that the global antibiotics market will
reach US$40.3 billion by 2015 (www.prweb.com). The focus will be on drugs with
“improved effectiveness and reduced resistance.”
Antibiotics work by inhibiting the growth of a microorganism or destroying it.
They do this by:
i)Stopping the synthesis of the bacteria’s cell wall.
ii)Preventing protein or nucleic acid production.
iii)Reducing the permeability of the cytoplasmic membrane.
These all prevent the bacteria from reproducing. Although most antibiotics today
are synthetic, originally they were derived from natural substances. The most commonly used type is a broad-spectrum antibiotic that is nonselective. Broad-spectrum antibiotics do not always succeed in killing the bacterium causing the disease,
and they destroy “friendly” gut bacteria. This can lead to an overgrowth of Candida
However, certain antibiotics do target gram-positive pathogens (such as
Staphylococcus and Streptococcus) or gram-negative pathogens (Clostridium difficile, Acetinobacter baumannii). But bacteria are very clever. They can destroy or
degrade an antibiotic, even if it infiltrates the bacteria’s membrane, by creating
enzymes like extended-spectrum beta-lactamase (ESBL) or NDM-1 (New Delhi
metallo-beta-lactamase) (Alp et al 2013; Mukherjee et al 2013). Bacteria can produce a new generation every 20 minutes, and they can share their resistance information with other forms of bacteria, regardless of if they are gram-positive or
gram-negative, anaerobic or aerobic (Salyers et al 2007). Bacteria weave the new
information into their DNA and this is then passed on to the next generation of
Antibiotics are listed in the group of drugs most frequently associated with
adverse reactions such as nausea and gastrointestinal problems, skin rashes, and
headaches (Kronman et al., 2012). A search on PubMed using the words “antibiotics” and “side-effects” produced 92,952 hits. The use of antibiotics in childhood has
been linked to inflammatory bowel disease (Kronman et al 2012). A Finnish population study of 3 million people showed that multiple use of antibiotics is associated
with increased incidence of cancer in later life (Kilkkinen et al 2008). According
to Buhner (2103), there are no new antibiotics in any stage of development after
2012, and there are no plans for any. Despite the $100 billion global profit of the
top 12 pharmaceutical companies, there is no money in developing new antibiotics.
There is more profit to be made in developing drugs for chronic conditions that will
always be needed. Once an antibiotic has done its work, it does not to be used again
until the next infection.
SECTION II | Clinical Use of Aromatherapy
Resistance to Antibiotics
Most of the world’s water supplies (industrialized countries) are contaminated with
minute amounts of antibiotics. This means that bacteria have a constant source of
antibiotics in the tiny amounts they can deal with, and they learn from it. And, of
course, the place where most of the resistant bacteria can be found is in hospitals.
Although manmade antibiotics have become increasingly sophisticated in an
attempt to compete with organisms that can mutate and initiate resistant colonies,
this appears to be a losing battle. As early as 1942, Fleming (who discovered penicillin) told the medical profession that Staphylococcus could become resistant to penicillin. Today, 95% of Staphylococcus is resistant to penicillin. Bacteria have become
resistant to antibiotics for various reasons:
1.Patients have not completed the prescribed course of antibiotics. This means
the bacteria are not completely eradicated and they become immune to the next
dose of that particular antibiotic.
2.Antibiotics have been prescribed for viral illness, e.g., the common cold.
3.Antibiotics have been used prophylactically.
4.During the past 40 years, antibiotics (penicillin and tetracycline) have been added to animal feed to increase growth as well as reduce possible infection from
over-crowding, despite years of warning (Jukes 1973).
5.Antibiotics are used by the food industry to protect fruits and vegetables.
6.Antibiotics are used in the fish industry.
7.Overprescription of antibiotics has been widespread.
Many of the meats that we eat, such as chickens, turkeys, pigs, calves, beef cattle, and
replacement dairy heifers, are given antibiotics to increase growth. In Canada, the
approved antibiotics added to animal feed include chlortetracycline, virginiamycin,
bacitracin, bambermycins, lincomycin, salinomycin, penicillin, monensin, tylosin,
and lasalocid. The use of antibiotics in animal feed has lessened over the last 20 years in
England, Scandinavia, The Netherlands, and most European countries. These countries agreed to ban the same antibiotics that were used in human medicine as growth
stimulants for animals (Fisher 1994). The United States did not agree to the ban and
80% of the antibiotics currently sold in the United States are used in animal farming
(Millet & Maertens 2011). In Africa, antibiotic residues in animal-derived foods have
exceeded the WHO maximum residue levels. Tetracycline, the most commonly used
antibiotic in Africa, was found in 41% animal-derived food (Darwish et al 2013).
It has been known for some time that all essential oils are antiseptic and some are
effective against bacteria, fungi, and viruses (Belaiche 1979; Belaiche 1985; Belaiche
1985a; Benouda 1988; Benencia & Courreges 1999). Scientific research is certainly
now giving credence to this historical knowledge. Nearly 20 years ago, Nelson (1997)
found essential oils of peppermint, thyme, lavender, tea tree, and juniper were effective against MRSA in vitro. Warnke et al (2009) suggest that essential oils “represent a
cheap and effective treatment option even for antibiotic resistant strains.”
CHAPTER 7 | Infection
There is a long history of essential oils being used against pestilence. A large
number of perfumers and glovemakers appeared to survive the Black Death in
Europe. This could be because glovemakers were licensed to impregnate their
wares with essential oils and because perfumes were made with real essential oils
not synthetics. Deinenger (1995) cites Schweistheimer, who wrote that the English
town of Bucklesbury was spared from the plague. At that time, Bucklesbury was the
center of the lavender trade. Several lavenders are effective against MRSA (Roller
& Buckle 2009). Nostradamus was supposed to have successfully treated the plague
with pills of crushed roses placed under the tongues of plague victims. Rosa damascena has antiviral (HIV) properties (Mahmood 1996) and antibacterial properties
­(Mahboubi et al 2011) so perhaps Nostradamus was right to use rose.
To say there is a plethora of research on the antibacterial effects of essential oils is an
understatement. There is certainly far too much to cover in this chapter, but what I
hope to do is show a small selection of published studies. This increase in research is a
huge change from when I wrote the second edition of this book, some 12 years ago. It is
exciting to see how in vitro research is being followed by human tests and studies. For
example, Casetti et al (2012) explored the effect of coriander essential oil on bacteria
(Streptococcus pyogenes and MRSA) that cause skin infections. They found the minimum
inhibitory concentration (MIC) required was 0.04% v/v and 0.25% v/v respectively.
They followed this in vitro discovery with a 0.5% cream and a 1.0% lotion that they
tried out on 40 health volunteers using a skin occlusion patch test. There was no skin
irritation. This German study could lead the way to coriander treating skin complaints.
One of the most prolific researchers on the antimicrobial activity of tea tree
(Melaleuca alternifolia) is Christine Carson, a microbiologist at the University of
Western Australia in Perth (Carson et al 1993; Carson et al 1994; Carson et al 1995;
Carson et al 1995a; Carson et al 1996; Carson et al 2001; Carson et al 2002; Carson
et al 2007; Edmondson et al, Carson 2011). I had the great pleasure of meeting
Dr. Carson again in Perth in 2013.
Edward-Jones et al (2004) tested patchouli, tea tree, geranium, and lavender
essential oils, singly and combined, against three strains of MRSA in vitro. The most
effective combinations were then tested using a “dressing model.” This consisted
of four layers of dressing. The first layer was either Jelonet or TelfaClear with or
without Flamazine; the second layer was gauze, the third layer was Gamgee and
the fourth layer was a crepe bandage. The “dressing model” was placed over three
agar dishes (containing different strains of MRSA) and incubated for 24 hours at
37 °C. The combination of geranium and tea tree oil was most active against MRSA
(Oxford strain). Geranium and citricidal (grapefruit seed extract) were most effective against MRSA (untypable).
Chin et al (2013) conducted an in vivo study based on Edward-Jones’ in vitro
study. Ten participants who had wounds infected with MRSA volunteered for the
SECTION II | Clinical Use of Aromatherapy
study. Four of the ten were used as matched subjects to compare standard treatment to treatment with tea tree. The differences were striking and hopefully will
lead the way to a large randomized controlled trial soon.
Halcon et al (2010) developed a tea tree oil wound product and tested its feasibility
on patients with chronic lower extremity wounds. Halcon had to complete the IND
(Investigational New Drug) document for the FDA (Food and Drug Administration).
This is not for the faint hearted as I found out when I was attending University of Pennyslvania! Fortunately, the FDA approved Halcon’s IND and she was able to develop
the product and test its feasibility. Her protocol included first washing the wound
with sterile water to remove any debris, then applying the tea tree oil (or a placebo)
to a clean gauze swab and place it directly on to the wound. Each subject was given 56
syringes containing 5 mL of a gel mixture and asked to keep the syringes in a refrigerator. The experimental (tea tree) group had 8% tea tree gel and the placebo had plain
gel. Although recruitment was low, the study did demonstrate it was possible to make
a product that was acceptable to the FDA and offer it to patients with positive results.
There have been several studies exploring the potential for using essential oils
in a hand wash or gel (Caelli et al 2001; Messager et al 2005; Blackwood et al 2008;
Rotter et al 2009; Blackwood et al 2013; Caelli et al 2001) found that a combination of 4% tea tree oil nasal ointment and a 5% body wash was more effective than
the standard 2% mupirocin nasal ointment and triclosan body wash to eradicate
MRSA. Messager et al (2005) found 5% tea tree oil in skin wash was more effective
at reducing E. coli than a nonmedicated soft soap on 27 volunteers. In 2008, Blackwood et al published a research protocol for a multicentered phase 2/3 prospective
open-label randomized, controlled clinical trial to compare 5% tea tree oil (TTO)
with Johnsons’ Baby Softwash (JBS) against MRSA. In 2013, they published the
results of their randomized, controlled study. A total of 445 patients were randomized to the study. Of these, 39 developed new MRSA colonization: 22 were in the
JBS group and 17 were in the TTO group. Unfortunately, their hypothesis—that
TTO would produce a statistically significant lower incidence of MRSA—was not
proven (P = 0.85). As a result, TTO could not be recommended above JBS. This
was disappointing. However, the good outcome was that they showed clinically that
TTO was as good as JBS. Perhaps further studies with more patients, or a higher
percentage of TTO, will produce a statistically significant result. Or maybe TTO will
always only be as good as JBS. Perhaps TTO needs to be mixed with another essential oil as combinations of essential oils have often been found to have a stronger
antimicrobial activity than single essential oils. A combination of essential oils in a
hand gel would also smell more pleasant than tea tree on its own.
However, some hospitals such as St. Clare’s Hospital, Baraboo, WI, are using
essential oils with good results and some physicians on staff recommend products
containing essential oils (that have been developed in the hospital) to their patients
for soft tissue infections. For example, an 8-month pregnant lady presented with
CR-MRSA infection to the medial aspect of her thighs, bilaterally, secondary to
contracting scabies. She was informed she would need a C-section. The patient
received approval from her OB doctor to use an essential oil mixture (supplied
CHAPTER 7 | Infection
by the hospital) on her thighs. Her MRSA cleared and she was able to have a vaginal delivery the following month. Another case was a 29-year-old female who had
developed a soft tissue abscess to her left thigh. She was instructed on how to use the
essential oil product supplied by the hospital pharmacy. The pain stopped within 3
days and the abscess cleared in 8 days (Rodriguez 2013).
Another hospital using essential oils for MRSA is Aurora Healthcare in Milwaukee, United States. The following case study shows how simple it is to add clinical
aromatherapy to patient care. An elderly female living in a nursing home had been
treated for MRSA for 9 months. She had infections in multiple locations including
blood, urine, nares, and oropharynx. Her standard of care included several rounds
of oral and topical antibiotics that were completed without eradication of the oropharynx. The patient had dementia so a mouthwash using swish and spit was not an
option. One drop of tea tree was added to her toothpaste every day plus two drops
of tea tree to her denture bath. After 1 week of treatment, her oropharynx cultured
negative and the essential oil treatment was discontinued. Subsequent negative cultures were obtained the second and third week as well. This was an inexpensive
treatment that was very successful (Ames 2013).
In an Iranian study, Mahboubi et al (2010) compared the use of an essential oil
based antimicrobial hand gel with standard 0.1% triclosan hand gel on 63 healthy
volunteers. The cream, marketed as Barij hand gel, contained blue gum (Eucalyptus
globulus) at 0.05%, key lime (Citrus aurantifolia) at 0.3% and geranium (Pelargonium gravelons) at 0.1%. The volunteers were their own controls. The essential oil
gel was rubbed onto one palm of the participants and the triclosan gel was rubbed
on the other—both for 20 seconds. The results showed Barij gel was as effective as
triclosan (P = 0.001) and certainly the smell would be nicer.
In Germany, an ointment containing essential oils of eucalyptus, pine needles,
and menthol was found effective in adolescents (greater than 12 years old) with
upper respiratory infections (Kamin et al 2007). This was a multicentered study
where the data of 3060 patients was collected. Most patients were diagnosed with a
cold, acute or chronic bronchitis, catarrh or hoarseness. The essential oil ointment
was applied to the neck area and/or inhaled. The treatment was judged to be excellent (88%) by both physicians and patients.
The Christie Hospital, Manchester, UK, uses clinical aromatherapy—mainly to
reduce the side effects of cancer treatment. However, Stringer (2010) writes about
her use of essential oils for infection in a middle-aged obese woman with acute
leukemia and diabetes. She had excoriated skin under both breasts, on both sides
of her groin and underneath the abdominal apron. These areas were infected with
Candida, Pseudomonas, and MRSA and exuded a distinct unpleasant odor that the
patient found humiliating. An aqueous cream containing 3% lavender (Lavandula
angustifolia), geranium (Pelargonium graveolens) and rosewood (Aniba rosaeodora)
was applied daily. The amount of exudate decreased substantially in 1 week. The
patient felt much happier as she was less sore and smelled much more pleasant.
Despite starting chemotherapy, the sores continued to shrink and by the end of the
chemotherapy, all excoriated areas had healed.
SECTION II | Clinical Use of Aromatherapy
A study by Sherry et al (2001) indicates that essential oils can be effective when
nothing else works. The authors reported on a chronic case of MRSA osteomyelitis. A 49-year-old man sustained an open fracture to his left tibia. He underwent
numerous surgical treatments and IV antibiotics over a 15-month period to try
to eradicate chronic osteomyelitis (MRSA). Amputation was being considered. In
2000, via a 3-cm percutaneous incision, the lower tibia was drilled and washed out
with 4000 mL of saline. Then it was packed with calcium sulfate pellets impregnated
with lemongrass, eucalyptus, tea tree, clove, and thyme essential oils in an ethanol
base. A catheter was left in situ to allow delivery of further essential oils. One milliliter of antiseptic essential oil mixture was administrated daily. The dilution and
ratio of the essential oils was not given. The wound healed and the culture was clear
within 3 months. The symptoms resolved, and a plain X-ray examination showed
resolution of the infective process with incorporation of the bone graft.
My students have had some impressive case-study results using essential oil
compresses on wound infections and infected bedsores. Swabs to indicate infectious
pathogens were taken, and the relevant essential oil selected. One particularly impressive case study was conducted by a nurse practitioner. A female patient had a chronically infected bedsore. This patient had been on systemic antibiotics without effect. A
wound swab showed the infection had been caused by Clostridium. Searching through
her notes, the nurse practitioner found a reference to a paper by Ross et al (1980).
After she had discussed the safety and potential efficacy of sweet marjoram (Origanum majorana) with the patient’s physician and had shown him the monograph, he
gave his consent for her to use this essential oil. The treatment was discussed with the
patient and consent obtained. A compress was applied directly to the infected site,
using a 5% solution of sweet marjoram. The compress was reapplied three times a day.
Within 24 hours there was a dramatic improvement, and within 5 days the wound
was healed. In other case studies, essential oils with antibacterial properties have been
selected without a swab being taken. Dilutions of up to 10% have been used with no
negative effects. In most instances, the infection has healed very rapidly.
A virus is different than any other pathogen because it is a coiled strand of nucleic
acid protected by a protein coat that can only survive and reproduce inside a host
cell (Brooker 2008). Viruses are smaller than bacteria and need electron microscopy
to be seen. There are basically two types of virus: those that attack bacteria and those
that attack the cells of other living organisms, such as animals and humans. The
basic structure of a virus is illustrated in Fig. 7-1.
Viruses are classified as either DNA or RNA viruses and subdivided into singlestrand and double-strand. A retrovirus contains an enzyme called reverse transcriptase that allows the RNA in the virus to be reverse-transcribed into DNA. Drugs
such as zidovudine (AZT) and zalcitabine (HIVID) are designed to inhibit production of reverse transcriptase. Drug-resistant viruses are well documented (Romano
et al 2012; Thai et al 2012; Newman et al 2013).
CHAPTER 7 | Infection
Naked icosahedral
(e.g., poliovirus)
Spikes (glycoprotein)
Envelope (protein and lipids)
Enveloped icosahedral
(e.g., herpesvirus)
Proteins making up
the capsid
Nucleic acid
Enveloped helical
(e.g., influenza virus)
FIGURE 7-1 | Structure of viruses. (From Ackerman B, Dunk-Richards G. Microbiology:
An Introduction for the Health Sciences. Australia: WB Saunders. 1991.)
In 2008, the Nobel Prize for Medicine/Physiology was divided between the
discovery of the human papillomavirus (HPV) and its correlation with cervical
cancer in women, and the discovery of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
(Rogowska-Szadkowska 2008).
Viruses such as the common cold, influenza, warts, mumps, measles, chickenpox, polio, and glandular fever (Epstein-Barr) are well known; less common are
viruses that cause rabies and Lassa fever. Although herpes has been around supposedly since Roman time, HSV1 and HSV2 have become much more prevalent in the
last 10 years. Of the common viruses, only smallpox has been eradicated through
immunization. A compulsory immunization program in the West has controlled
mumps and measles. However, concern over the safety of the MMR vaccine led to
an outbreak of measles in Wales during 2013.
Synthetic virucides are difficult to manufacture, and most have moderate to
severe side effects (Stasi et al 2013; Fortana 2012; Gallant 2012). Virucides work
in one of three ways: through immunologic control, through stimulation of the
SECTION II | Clinical Use of Aromatherapy
TABLE 7-10 Databases Searched Using Virus Name AND “Essential Oil”
natural resistance mechanism of the host, or through chemotherapy. One of the
most successful, AZT (azidothymidine), stops the phosphate linkage from being
formed—thus the virus cannot manufacture DNA. However, many viruses are now
resistant to AZT (Praparattanapan et al 2012).
Current antivirals include acyclovir (Zovirax), famcyclovir (Famvir), Vidarabine (Vira-A), and rimantadine (Flumadine). Ribavirin, a broad-spectrum antiviral, has been approved for the treatment of infections with respiratory syncytial
virus, HCV and Lassa virus (Debing et al 2013). Retinazole inhibits Ebola (Kesel
et al 2013). However, there are no drugs available for many other viruses that cause
life-threatening infections.
Highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) has increased survival time in
AIDS patients to more than 10 years (Husstedt et al 2009). HAART has also lowered the incidence of various opportunistic diseases in HIV-positive women, and
decreased the incidence of mother to child infection (Linguissi et al 2012). However,
its impact on cervical squamous intraepithelial lesions (SILs) is unclear (Heard et al
2006). HAART drugs have potent side effects on the central and peripheral nervous
system and muscles. These side effects make it difficult for patients to completely
adhere to the treatment regimen (Husstedt et al 2009).
For the number of articles found on viruses and essential oils in different databases,
please see Table 7-10. A list of published research on essential oils and HSV1 and
HSV2 is given in Table 7-11. The antiviral effects of essential oils (and their components) have been evaluated over the last 10 years against diseases such as SARS,
influenza, Dengue fever, West Nile fever and yellow fever and the in vitro research
is very encouraging (Reichling et al 2009). Many of the studies carried out since
2005 are listed in Table 7-12. Essential oils appeared to have a direct effect on the
mechanism of a virus, either by interfering with the virus envelope or by affecting the virus’s ability to enter the host cell. However, unlike acyclovir, they do not
prevent viral replication (Reichling 2010). Star anise essential oil (and all isolated
compounds) deactivated free virus particles (Astani et al 2011). Oregano and clove
appeared to disrupt the virus envelope (Siddiqui et al 1996).
Over 40 years ago, Kucera and Herrmann (1967) explored the antiviral effects
of the aqueous extract of Melissa officinalis against influenza, mumps, and influenza and found it had an antiviral effect on mumps but had no effect on influenza.
CHAPTER 7 | Infection
TABLE 7-11 Antiviral Essential Oils Against HSV1 and HSV2
Essential oil
Botanical Name
Melissa officinalis
Reichling et al
Tragoolpua &
Saddi et al
Schnitzler et al
Koch et al
Koch et al
Schnitzler et al
Garozzo et al
Astani et al
Astani et al
Great mugwort
Star anise
Dwarf pine
Tea tree
Blue gum
Star anise
Eugenia caryophyllus bud
Artemisia arborescens
Hyssopus officinalis
Santalum album
Thymus vulgaris
Zingiber officinalis
Illicium verum
Pinus mugo
Matricaria recutita
Citrus limon
Melissa officinalis
Melaleuca alternifolia
Eucalyptus globulus
Illicium verum
Melissa officinalis
HSV2; similar
to acyclovir
HSV1 and 2
HSV1 and 2
HSV1 and 2
HSV1 and 2
HSV1 and 2
HSV1 and 2
HSV1 and 2
TABLE 7-12 Antiviral Essential Oils
Essential oil
Botanical Name
Loizzo et al
Wu et al
Laurus nobilis
Citrus sinensis
Eugenia caryophyllus
Eucalyptus globulus
Rosmarinus officianlis
Ocazionez et al
Lippia citriadora
Lippia alba
Melaleuca alternifolia
Juniperus drupacea
Dengue fever
Gorozzo et al
et al
Gómez et al
Bay laurel
On Guard™
Lemon verbena
Bushy lippia
Tea tree
Syrian juniper
Lemon verbena
Bushy lippia
Lippia citriadora
Lippia alba
West Nile
Yellow fever
SECTION II | Clinical Use of Aromatherapy
More recently, Melissa officinalis was found to be effective against HSV1 and HSV2
(Schnitzler et al 2008; Cermelli et al 2008).
Lemon gum (Eucalyptus citriadora) was found to be an effective antiviral by
Mendes et al (1990). Eucalyptus globulus (blue gum) was found to be an effective
antiviral (Schnitzler et al 2001). This may be of particular interest to patients with
HIV/AIDS as Eucalyptus globulus is also effective against MRTB (multiple-drugresistant tuberculosis) that is common in AIDS patients (Sadlon & Lamson 2010). I
am a little surprised there is no research on Ravansara aromatica, Ravansara anisata
(sometimes called Ravintsara) or Eucalyptus smithii as these are all excellent antiviral agents—especially against HSV1 and HSV2.
Duke (1985) wrote that cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum) and clove (Syzygium
aromaticum) had antiviral properties. Current research shows he is correct (Ovadia
et al 2009; Yeh et al 2013; Elizaquível et al 2013). Cinnamon produces two essential
oils: one from the leaf and one from the bark. The leaf essential oil contains less than
7% cinnamic aldehyde (a known skin irritant) but the essential oil obtained from
the bark contains up to 90% cinnamic aldehyde (Lovell 1993). The latter is therefore
contraindicated for topical applications, as even at such low dilutions as 0.01%, reactions have been found in patch testing (Mathias 1980). A physician reported that cinnamon oil caused a 10 × 12 cm2 second degree burn on the thigh of an 11-year-old
boy that came to the University of Mexico pediatric clinic (Sparks 1985).
A fungus is a primitive organism classified as neither a plant nor an animal.
Only a few fungi are pathogenic to man, and most cause superficial, mild lesions
­(MacSween & Whaley 1992). Fungi are divided into three categories: superficial,
subcutaneous, and systemic. All can be environmental in origin. Fungal infections
are caused by airborne allergens, elaborating toxins, or by direct infection. With an
airborne allergen (such as tinea, or ringworm) the spores, or hyphae, of the fungus
infiltrate the outer layers of the skin and cause destruction of the epidermis. With
mycetoma, a localized infection occurs that may slowly spread, although with candidiasis and cryptococcosis the infection can become systemic.
Opportunistic yeast infections, such as candidiasis, cryptococcosis, trichosporonosis,
and geotrichosis, are diseases caused by fungi that normally are saprophytic and do
not cause disease in humans or animals (Vázquez-González et al 2013). However,
morbidity and mortality remain high for patients with invasive fungal infections (IFIs)
such as invasive candidiasis (IC), invasive aspergillosis (IA), cryptococcal meningitis
despite an increasing number of antifungals and other treatments (Perfect 2013).
Cryptococcosis is a yeast infection that is spread by bird droppings and begins as a
sporadic disease manifesting with lung infestation. From the lungs, yeast cells migrate
to the central nervous system (CNS). Technically there is a blood-brain barrier
(BBB) but this barrier is not 100% leakproof and under certain conditions, such as
CHAPTER 7 | Infection
TABLE 7-13 Essential Oils Effective Against Cryptococcus spp.
Common Name
Botanical Name
Lemos et al
Angiolella et at
Vale-Silva et al
Zuzarte et al
Pinto et al
Clove basil
Apple mint
Portuguese thyme
White lavender
Ocimum gratissimum
Mentha sauveolens
Thymus × viciosoi
Lavandula viridis
Ferulago capillaris
62.5 μL/mL
0.04-0.64 μL/mL
0.32-0.64 μL/mL
0.08-5.0 μL/mL
immune deficiency, the BBB is compromised and CNS infection can occur. Meningoencephalitis is the most common form of cryptococcosis, followed by pulmonary
infection (Tseng et al 2013). Standard treatment is intravenous Liposomal amphotericin B (AmBisome)—a lipid-associated formulation of amphotericin B or micafungin (Moen et al 2009). Fluconazole and intraconazole are also used and they are less
expensive. Some essential oils such as Artemisia dracunculus (tarragon) are effective
against Cryptococcus (Lopes-Lutz et al 2008). However, the majority of effective essential oils appear to be less well known. I have included a small selection in Table 7-13.
Spores of this Aspergillosis are present in the atmosphere, and many species are
infectious to man. The most common is Aspergillus fumigatus. Although the effect
of this fungus is not as rapid as that of Cryptococcus, the resulting bronchial asthma
can be debilitating. The fungus may colonize a bronchial cavity and can result in
necrotizing pneumonia. This tends to occur only in immunocompromised patients.
Invasive aspergillosis (IA) is a major cause of mortality in patients with hematologic
malignancies (Morrissey et al 2011) and morbidity and mortality are increasing
(Maschmeyer 2007). Aspergillus is becoming resistant to standard treatment with
azole-based drugs such as voriconazole (Badali et al 2013; van der Linden 2013).
Khan and Ahmad (2011) tested essential oils for their ability to enhance the
effect of fluconazole against Aspergillus. They found that essential oils containing cinnamaldehyde reduced the MIC of fluconazole by 8-fold. A further study
by Khan and Ahmad found (2011a) found palma rosa (Cymbopogon martini)
and lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) also had promising activity against Aspergillus. Other essential oils such as Juniperus communis (juniper) and Lavandula
luisieri have also been found effective against Aspergillus (Cabral et al 2012;
Zuzarte et al 2012).
Candida is normally present in the mouth, intestinal tract, vagina, and on moist
skin and does not pose a problem. However, in certain circumstances, the fungus
SECTION II | Clinical Use of Aromatherapy
begins a mucocutaneous, or systemic, invasion. The mucosal infection occurs when
an alteration in the pH of the body tissue produces an alkaline medium that allows
the yeast fungus to proliferate. From the mucosa, Candida can invade surrounding surfaces such as nail beds, producing chronic granulomatous inflammation of
the underlying tissue. It can also spread throughout the body, invading the heart
valves, lungs, liver, and kidneys with multiple, small abscesses. Thus, Candida can
cause severe mucosal and life-threatening invasive infections, especially in immunocompromised hosts (Smeekens et al 2013) although this is mainly with Candida
glabrata. Critically ill patients in the intensive care unit (ICU) are at increased risk
of encountering bloodstream infections (BSIs) with Candida (Chahoud et al 2013).
The symptoms of candidal mucosal infestation are severe itching, with creamy,
curd-like deposits. Candida is a common infection in diabetes, pregnancy, during
antibiotic therapy, and following radiation and chemotherapy (Brooker 2008). A
more in depth review of essential oils for Candida and table of essential oils that are
effective against Candida can be found in the chapter on women’s health.
Clearly, further research is needed. I hope this chapter will encourage a paradigm
shift in pharmaceutical research. The pharmaceutical industry has invested billions
in creating antibiotics, antivirals, and antifungals. Now they are faced with increasing evidence that these medicines are no longer working because the pathogens
have become resistant. But could it be possible that these medicines, that used to
save lives, no longer work just because they are fixed entities?
Let me elucidate: when pharmaceutical companies find a novel substance that
works, they reduce it down to the main active ingredient. Then they extract it,
synthesize it and a new drug is born. The drug is always exactly the same. Every
ampicillin is identical, no matter where you buy it. Every fluconozole is identical.
So, a pathogen can mutate fairly quickly and simply. This is the same with the
standardized essential oils (SEOs) that are used by the pharmaceutical industry.
For example SO 856:2006 specifies certain characteristics for peppermint essential
oil (Mentha piperita).
But this does not happen in nature. In nature, nonstandardized essential oils,
(NSEOs) are not identical. Their exact chemical makeup depends on geography
and harvest: that is, where the plant grows (altitude, temperature, rainfall) and the
process of distillation (length, temperature). These subtle changes in the chemistry
of an NSEO mean that each batch of essential oil is slightly different—but within
certain general parameters. Also, the chemical makeup of an NSEO has synergy—
the whole exerts more than the sum of all the parts.
Research has already shown that the components in some essential oils enhance
drug permeation and drug potency (Choi & Shin 2007; Krishnaiah et al 2008;
Rosata 2010; Duarte et al 2012). Mostly, these are standardized components, or
(SEOs). Therefore, over a short period of time, the pathogen will mutate to accommodate them. But, what if a whole NSEO was added to a conventional antibiotic?
CHAPTER 7 | Infection
What if the essential oil was changed daily or weekly? Or if a mixture of essential
oils was used? The subtle changes and synergy of an NSEO might prove more difficult for a pathogen to accommodate. I first postulated this idea at the Gattefosse
Foundation (Buckle 2010).
If the pharmaceutical industry tried this new different way of thinking—away
from a fixed, reductionist paradigm, perhaps they might discover that NSEO or
mixtures of NSEOs could “recharge” an antibiotic and make it work again. What
about other medicines? It is worth trying. If my hypothesis is right, this idea of
Evolutionary Pharmacology could be generalized to a whole range of different
medicines. Perhaps evolutionary pharmacologic medicines (EPM) could be the
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“Each night, when I go to sleep, I die. And the next morning, when I wake up,
I am reborn.”
Mahatma Gandhi
Some Short-Acting Drugs That Initiate Sleep, 170
Some Drugs That Prolong Sleep, 171
Published Studies on Insomnia and Essential Oils, 174
Studies Carried out by RJ Buckle Students, 175
Today’s society is fast-moving and thousands of people travel daily, often across
time zones. Regularity and sleep patterns are constantly disturbed as new sounds
and unfamiliar surroundings compound the sense of timelessness caused by
continuous movement. Sleep has become a commodity to be bought and sold.
Approximately 30% of the general population has insomnia (Jahangir et al 2008).
It is estimated that 40% of all insomnia patients have a coexisting psychiatric condition (Ancoli-Israel 2006). Insomnia and depression share a common pathologic
process. This makes people susceptible to both conditions—specifically, abnormal regulation of corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF). Arroll et al (2012) found
50% insomnia participants (n = 388) had depression. Insomnia impairs cognitive
and physical functioning and insomniacs are more prone to accidents. Insomnia
affects job performance and results in time off work. Insomnia affects quality of
life. Women are 1.4 times more likely to have insomnia than men with elderly
females the most at risk (Jahangir et al 2008).
Patients in the hospital are separated from everything that enables them to
feel relaxed. They are in a strange bed, with strange smells, strange noises, and a
strange routine. Unsurprisingly, many patients feel apprehensive and are unable to
sleep. Even frequently hospitalized patients find sleep difficult (Boonstra et al 2011;
CHAPTER 8 | Insomnia
Haynes et al 2011; Isaia et al 2011). Good sleep hygiene, for example, going to bed
when sleepy and not napping during the day, can alleviate symptoms in 30% of
insomniacs (Falloon et al 2011) and, in some studies, is as effective as sleeping pills.
However, good sleep hygiene may be difficult in a hospital environment. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been successful for insomnia (Morgenthaler et al
2006). However, CBT is not available in hospitals; therefore, night sedation may be
the only choice for hospital patients.
Sleep is defined by Brooker (2008) as a “naturally altered state of consciousness occurring in humans in a 24 hour biological rhythm.” Sleep occurs in two forms: rapid eye
movement (REM), when dreaming occurs, and non-rapid eye movement (NREM).
Both types are important. REM sleep occurs three to four times each night and lasts
from 5 minutes to over 1 hour (Hsieh et al., 2012). During this time, the brain waves
are fast, low voltage and both heart rate and respiration are irregular. During NREM,
brain waves are slow, high voltage and both heart rate and blood pressure are low
and regular. Humans have a 24-hour circadian rhythm that is controlled by a central
circadian pacemaker located in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) of the hypothalamus (Dijk et al 2012). Twelve percent of insomniacs have delayed sleep circadian
rhythm disorder (Falloon et al 2011). Hospitalized patients sometimes require highdose opioids. This produces a complete lack of REM sleep (Gay 2010). Patients who
require mechanical ventilation also lack a normal circadian rhythm. Sleep is controlled by melatonin—a signaling hormone secreted by the pineal gland. Melatonin
is also synthesized in various other organs and tissues in the body (Hardeland 2012).
Insomnia is either primary, with no underlying cause, or secondary, with an underlying condition (Falloon et al 2011). According to the American Sleep Disorders
Association (2005), insomnia is repeated difficulty in falling asleep, staying asleep,
or poor quality of sleep for at least 1 month. Roth (2007) states this difficulty is
“present despite adequate opportunity and circumstance to sleep. The impairment
in sleep is associated with daytime impairment or distress. Sleep difficulty occurs at
least 3 times per week and has been a problem for at least 1 month.” All the above
types of insomnia may occur in hospital patients, where strange noises and smells
permeate dreams or prevent sleep from occurring.
Night Sedation
Several websites, including The Mayo Clinic, suggest there are two types of night
sedation: sedatives (anxiolytics) and sedative/hypnotics. Thorpy and Roth (2013)
suggest dividing sedative/hypnotics that induce and/or maintain sleep into the
following categories (Tables 8-1 and 8-2).
1.Benzodiazepine receptor agonists (BZDs). These can be short, medium, or long
acting and are for short-term use—up to 1 month. Examples are estazolam
(ProSom), flurazepam (Dalmane), quazepam (Dormalin), temazepam (Restoril),
SECTION II | Clinical Use of Aromatherapy
TABLE 8-1 Some Short-Acting Drugs That Initiate Sleep
Side Effects
Heavy meals may slow
Sudden withdrawal may lead to
unpleasant symptoms
May interact with alcohol
Heavy meals may slow
Drug/alcohol abuse
Respiratory problems
Pregnancy, breast-feeding
Liver, kidney, or respiratory disease
Depression or sleep apnea
Pregnancy, breast-feeding
Depression, respiratory
History of drug abuse
Pregnancy, breast-feeding
Liver, kidney, or
respiratory disease
Liver, kidney, or
respiratory disease
Interacts with grapefruit juice,
alcohol, and some medications
Drug must be halted gradually
Seldom prescribed because of
habit-forming property
May interact with other
Heavy meals may slow
Fast and short acting
Can be habit-forming
May become less effective over
Sleep effects such as sleep-driving
and sleep-eating may occur
Information has been gleaned from individual drug websites and The Mayo Clinic website (2012).
B = Benzodiazepine; M = melatonin receptor agonist; Z = nonbenzodiazepine (Z medicine).
triazolam (Halcion), diazepam (Valium), lorazepam (Ativan), and nitrazepam
2.Nonbenzodiazepines (Z medicines). Examples are zolpidem, zaleplon, and
zopiclone. These act via γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA)ergic neurotransmission.
It is important to have at least 7 hours sleep after taking Z medicines (NHS
Choices 2013).
3.Histamine-1 receptor antagonists. Examples are doxepin and diphenhydramine.
4.Melatonin receptor agonists. Ramelteon (Rozerem) is approved for sleep-onset
insomnia in the United States and Japan, but not yet in Europe (Takeda 2011).
Circadin is the brand name for melatonin in the UK (NHS Choices 2013).
Melatonin plus light box therapy can also be useful for circadian rhythm sleep
disorder (Murakami et al 2012). Melatonin is available online as a food supplement.
5.Circadian regulators. These drugs reset the circadian clock in the SCN of the hypothalamus. Agomelatine (Valdoxan, Melitor, Thymanax) is a melatonergic antidepressant that appears to also have positive effects on insomnia (O’Neill et al 2013).
CHAPTER 8 | Insomnia
TABLE 8-2 Some Drugs That Prolong Sleep
May interact with many
Can be habit-forming
Falls in the elderly
Heavy meals may slow
Sudden withdrawal may lead
to unpleasant symptoms
May interact with many
May react with alcohol
Can be habit-forming
Pregnancy, breast-feeding
Elderly patient
Depression, lung disease
Alcohol abuse
Metabolic disorders
(Ambien CR)
Pregnancy, breast-feeding
Kidney or liver problems
Depression, substance
Lung disease
Pregnancy, breast-feeding
Kidney or liver problems
Extended-release formula
Information has been gleaned from research (Jacob et al., 2012; Majdan et al., 2012), individual drug
websites and The Mayo Clinic website (2012).
B = Benzodiazepine; Z = nonbenzodiazepine (Z medicine).
Nearly 30 years ago, the headline “Lavender Beats Benzodiazepines” (Tisserand
1988) introduced the idea that aromatherapy could be useful for insomnia. Tisserand outlined the use of essential oils of lavender, marjoram, geranium, mandarin,
and cardamom as sleep aids in a hospital. Aromatherapy can be beneficial to relax
patients, thus enabling them to sleep or to restore a normal sleep pattern.
Helen Passant, possibly the most holistic nurse after Florence Nightingale, introduced aromatherapy into the Churchill Hospital in Oxford, England, in the 1980s,
when she was in charge of a ward for the elderly. Remarkably, Passant reduced her
original drug bill by one third by gradually replacing analgesia and night sedation
with essential oils. She found her patients seemed to “get off to sleep just as easily,
if not better, with oils of lavender or marjoram, either vaporized or applied by massage” (Tisserand 1988). Around the same time, another hospital in Oxford, The
Radcliffe Infirmary, introduced aromatherapy into the Beeson Ward. Patients were
given the option of aromatherapy instead of night sedation or analgesics. Nearly all
of the patients chose aromatherapy (Tisserand 1988).
In a survey of six countries (Canada, Germany, Japan, Mexico, UK, and the
United States), 84% of UK residents could recall “the distinct smell of how their bedroom smelled” (National Sleep Foundation 2013, http://www.sleepfoundation.org).
More than 50% of residents of all other countries in the survey (except Japan) could
SECTION II | Clinical Use of Aromatherapy
also remember. According to this study, 50% of residents of five countries (except
Germany) liked the smell of lavender or jasmine in their bedroom. Seventy percent
of residents of five countries (except Japan) said the smell of antiseptic detracted
them from sleep. This is not surprising because aromas have an affect even when
we are sleeping (Arzi et al 2010). If we can make a hospital bed smell more like the
patient’s bed at home, there is increased chance they will be able to sleep.
Published Aromatherapy Studies
The following selection has been chosen to give a broad overview of some of the
aromatherapy studies that have been published on insomnia. It is not intended to
be a systematic review. New additions to this third edition include studies from
2000 onwards. I have selected studies from as many countries as possible, using a
range of databases (Pubmed, Science Direct, Royal College of Nursing, Quintessential.co.uk, and Herbalgram), and I have chosen essential oils that are readily
available and safe to use on hospital patients. It is difficult to conceal aroma, and
lavender is well recognized and associated with relaxation. However, the studies
outlined below will hopefully give some credence to a nurse or physician’s wish to
try aromatherapy for their patient’s insomnia.
True lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) has a long history of use in aromatherapy
to promote sleep and relaxation and to relieve anxiety. In Bulgaria, AtanassovaShopova et al (1973) found that linalol and terpineol were the active components
of lavender and they had a depressing effect on the central nervous system (CNS).
Oral doses of linalool were found to be hypnotic and anticonvulsant in mice in a
study by Elisabetsky et al (1995a). Elisabetsky et al (1995b) also established that linalol inhibited glutamate binding in rat cortex in a way similar to phenobarbital. The
glutamate binding involved all receptor subtypes investigated. A Japanese study
(Yamada et al 1994) concurred that inhaled lavender had anticonvulsant effects in
mice. Linalool, one of the main components of lavender, was found to induce sleep
in mice in a later study by de Moura Lincke et al (2009).
In France, Guillemain et al (1989) agreed that oral doses of lavender (diluted
1:60 in olive oil) had marked sedative effects on mice and enhanced barbiturate
sleep time. In Germany, Buchbauer et al (1991) in Germany discovered that lavender had a sedative effect when inhaled by mice. Interestingly, the more agitated
the animal was (as a result of injecting caffeine), the stronger the sedative effect of
the lavender. Jager et al (1992a) established that lavender diluted in peanut oil was
absorbed through the skin.
Henry et al (1994) carried out a 7-week study on human subjects at Newholme
Hospital in Bakewell, England. Lavender was diffused at night in a ward of patients
with dementia. Diffused lavender had a statistically significant sedative effect.
Hudson (1996) also found lavender was effective for elderly patients in a longterm unit. Eight of the nine patients in the study had improved sleep at night and
CHAPTER 8 | Insomnia
improved alertness during the day. Lavender straw (the byproduct of distillation)
was itself found to reduce the stress of pigs in transit in a study by Bradshaw et al
Recent Studies
Recent published studies include an American one by Goel et al (2005) who found
that inhaled lavender increased the percentage of deep or slow-wave sleep (SWS) in
31 men and women in a sleep laboratory. Goel describes aromatherapy as an “anecdotal method for modifying sleep and mood.” At the end of the study, Goel concludes “lavender serves as a mild sedative and has practical applications as a novel,
nonphotic method for promoting deep sleep in young men and women and for
producing gender-dependent sleep effects.” His study showed a difference between
the effect of lavender on sleep patterns in men and women. A 12-week controlled
trial in Taiwan monitored the effect of lavender on heart rate variation (HRV) in 67
women with insomnia (Chien et al 2012). Outcomes measured included the Chinese version of the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI). The experimental group
received lavender inhalation twice a week for 12 weeks. The control group received
a health education program on sleep. Women receiving aromatherapy experienced
a significant improvement in sleep quality after intervention (P = 0.001). A Korean
study (Lee & Lee 2006) explored the effects of inhaled lavender on 42 women college students with insomnia. The 4-week protocol comprised 1 week baseline, 1
week lavender, 1 week washout, and 1 week lavender. The length of time taken to
fall asleep plus quality of sleep and satisfaction of sleep all improved by 60% (P =
A British study in 2005 led by Lewith, a physician, explored the effects of lavender using a diffuser. The 4-week protocol was similar to the Korean study with a
baseline, lavender week, washout week, and second lavender week. Ten volunteers
with insomnia rated PSQI as well as other questionnaires rating treatment credibility and attitudes to complementary alternative medicine (CAM). The lavender
group had a 2.5 point reduction in the PSQI scale (P = 0.07). Women and younger
volunteers improved the most.
An Iranian study (Moeini et al 2010) explored the use of lavender for insomnia in patients with ischemic heart disease in a hospital coronary care unit (CCU).
Sixty-four patients took part in the controlled study that lasted three nights. Each
time, aromatherapy was diffused for 9 hours. The sleep quality of the lavender
group was better than that of the control group (P = 0.001).
Expectancy may play a role in aromatherapy and a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial study by Howard & Hughes (2008) concluded “previous associations
of lavender aroma with assisted relaxation may have been influenced by expectancy
biases.” Because of this, a Moroccan team led by Alnamer (2012) explored the sedative and hypnotic effects of methanolic and aqueous extracts of lavender on mice
(who could not be accused of being biased by expectancy) using diazepam as the
control. They found that “extracts of Lavandula officinalis have potent sedative and
hypnotic activities.” However, a systematic review of all complementary therapies
SECTION II | Clinical Use of Aromatherapy
TABLE 8-3 Published Studies on Insomnia and Essential Oils
Essential Oil
Lewith et al
Goel et al
Lee & Lee
Fewell et al
Howard &
Komori et al
Jahangir et al
Arzi et al
Sweet orange
Moeini et al
Chien et al
during sleep
*A mixture of sandalwood (35%), juniper berry (12%), rose (8%), and orris (6%).
used in insomnia concluded that aromatherapy was poorly represented (Sarris &
Byrne 2011). Table 8-3 shows that there are surprisingly few studies on aromatherapy and insomnia and most involve lavender. This is disappointing because
aromatherapy is a very simple complementary therapy to try.
Despite this lack of evidence, essential oils are being used for insomnia. A recent
Norwegian survey of 12 nurses working in four different establishments found that
lavender (Lavandula augustifolia) essential oil had been diffused nightly and this had
reduced insomnia in all four residential homes for dementia patients (Johannessen
2013). In the UK, a 28-month audit of aromatherapy at the Royal Marsden Hospital,
London showed that aromasticks (containing either lavender plus petitgrain or lavender plus mandarin) were offered to cancer patients with insomnia (Dyer et al 2013).
RJ Buckle students have conducted 21 pilot studies on insomnia (Table 8-4).
Seven of these studies used lavender. The patient populations included children,
adults, night nurses, and children with autism. Methodology was varied and used
topical application, inhalers, and diffusers. Blyth (2011) explored the effect of
aromatherapy on the sleep patterns of children with autism. Parents applied 2%
Lavandula angustifolia cream to the forearms of their children just before bedtime
(n =10). The parents documented the hours of sleep and the waking episodes for
a 3-week period. The first week was baseline, followed by the lavender week, then
washout. The length of time the children slept did not change. However, 8 of the 10
children had a dramatic reduction in the number of times they awoke and needed
CHAPTER 8 | Insomnia
TABLE 8-4 Studies Carried out by RJ Buckle Students
Essential Oil
Night nurses
Night nurses
Night nurses
Autistic children
Sweet marjoram and
Roman chamomile
Clary sage and sweet
Lavender and Roman
Lavender and sweet
Lavender and sweet
Sweet marjoram and
Roman chamomile
Roman chamomile
Sweet marjoram
Lavender and clary
attention during the lavender week. As every mother will tell you, that is important!
The effect could be attributed to the rubbing, the gentle evaporation of lavender
that was inhaled by the child while he/she was asleep, or the combination of the two.
Jager et al (1992b) found that neroli (Citrus aurantium var. amara [flos]) had a sedative effect on mice. In this study, the sedative effects were observed during the first
30 minutes of exposure to the aroma. More recent studies have focused on gerbils
inhaling neroli (Chen et al 2008). In this study, neroli showed a measurable anxiolytic effect with Xanax as the control. Xanax is a benzodiazepine that is sometimes
SECTION II | Clinical Use of Aromatherapy
used to treat insomnia. Neroli is often suggested for anxiety. However, as one of the
most expensive essential oils, this could be why there is so little published research.
Passionflower and Lime Blossom
Buchbauer et al (1992) found that essential oils of passionflower (Passiflora
incarnata) and lime blossom (Tilia cordata) had sedative effects. Lime blossom
and its major component, benzyl alcohol, decreased the motility of animals in
both normal and induced-agitation states. Interestingly, passionflower and its
main components, maltol and 2-phenylethanol, only reduced motility when the
animals were in an agitated state. A recent review of herbal preparations used
for anxiety, depression, and insomnia in humans (Sarris et al 2011) found that
although human studies indicated that passionflower had a measurable anxiolytic effect, more studies were required. Passionflower appears to work by modulating the GABA system (Appel et al 2011). In these studies, passionflower was
taken internally.
Black Cumin
Khanna et al (1993) found that black cumin (Nigella sativa) essential oil had a sedative effect more powerful than the drug chlorpromazine (Largactil) and was also
an analgesic. The study suggested that black cumin contained an opioid-like component. More recent studies on animals have concentrated on anxiolytic effects
(Gilhotra & Dhingra 2011) and anticonvulsant effects (Hosseinzadeh & Parvardeh
2004) in mice. It would be interesting to study inhaled black cumin on human
insomnia. Because black cumin has a strong, pungent aroma, it would probably
need to be “softened” with another calming aroma such as lavender, clary sage, or
Roman chamomile.
Roman Chamomile
Surprisingly, there are few published studies on Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) for insomnia; those that are in the literature focus on chamomile
extract. It is well known that chamomile tea has a sedative effect (Gould et al 1973).
RJ Buckle students have conducted five pilot studies on insomnia using Roman
chamomile on its own or in a mixture. However, the studies have been inconclusive, either because the participants did not keep to the research protocol or
because the effects, although positive, were very small. Roman chamomile may be a
useful essential oil to add to a mixture for insomnia, but I am not convinced that it
is effective enough on its own. It certainly has a more pleasing aroma than German
chamomile (Matricaria recutita).
This is an interesting choice and not one that would immediately come to mind.
Nevertheless, three RJ Buckle students carried out studies on insomnia using ravensara. Nickman (2007) explored the effects of inhaled Ravensara aromatica for three
nights (n = 10). Participants inhaled three drops of ravensara on a cotton ball and
CHAPTER 8 | Insomnia
then placed the cotton ball by their pillow. Each night they replaced the old cotton ball with a new cotton ball with three drops of ravensara. In the aromatherapy
group, three participants slept better, one experienced reduced snoring, and one
noticed some sinus clearing. In the control group, two participants said the placebo
had no effect, two participants had congested sinuses and did not sleep, but one
participant said they had the best sleep ever! Ravensara would not be my first choice
for insomnia. However, it would be an excellent addition to a mixture if the person
had a cold or sinus problems.
Most people enjoy the smell of roses. Rose is perhaps the most recognized and
popular aroma in the world. Despite essential oil of rose being expensive, the
cost may be justified where chronic insomnia is concerned. Both Macht and Ting
(1921) and Rovesti and Columbo (1973) demonstrated that rose (Rosa damascena) essential oil has sedative effects. The sedative effects were replicated in a
later study by Hongratanaworakit (2009). This study found that rose oil caused
“significant decreases of breathing rate and systolic blood pressure that indicate
a decrease of autonomic arousal.” Jahangir et al (2008) compared the effect of
steam-distilled rose petals (Ruh gulaab), rose distillate, or diluted rose distillate
when given orally (three times daily) to 36 people with insomnia. The distilled
rose petals had the greatest effect on insomnia with 66.6% (eight people) claiming
total relief from insomnia. An added bonus was that rose had a positive effect on
In my experience, as well as that of my students and patients, rose is a strong
contender to use for anxiety and for insomnia. Rose is in my own personal sleep
potion when I travel and it certainly works for me.
Komori et al (2006) explored the effect of a mixture of inhaled essential oils on 29
primary insomniacs with benzodiazepine dependency. The mixture was sandalwood
(35%), juniper berry (12%), rose (8%), and orris (6%). Twenty-six participants were
able to reduce their drug dose and 12 participants were able to come off the sleeping
pill completely. Seong et al (2013) used a mixture of ylang ylang (Cananga odorata),
sweet marjoram (Origanum majoranum), lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), and
neroli (Citrus aurantium var amara [flos]) in this randomized, controlled 2-week
study. Participants were newly enlisted soldiers (undergoing training before placement) who were diagnosed with essential hypertension. Soldiers in the experimental
group used aroma stones at night and wore aroma necklaces during the day. Results
showed a significant reduction in blood pressure and pulse. It would be interesting
to repeat this study and look at levels of insomnia.
It would be simple to design an insomnia study using personal patches or
personal packets (please see the chapter on application methods) for patients in
hospital. These modern methods of application would give constant delivery, or
ready availability to the patient and not affect other people in the room (unlike a
SECTION II | Clinical Use of Aromatherapy
diffuser). It would be useful if such studies could include a baseline week, an intervention week, and a washout week. The oils I suggest could include some of the
following: lavender, ylang ylang, mandarin, neroli, rose, clary sage, Roman chamomile, and sweet marjoram. The mixture I use when I can’t sleep contains rose,
lavender, mandarin, and frankincense.
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Nausea and Vomiting
“Sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds: Lilies that fester smell far worse
than weeds.”
William Shakespeare (1564-1616), Sonnet XCIV
Nausea Studies Carried out by RJ Buckle Students, 186
Published Research on Nausea and Peppermint, 186
Published Research on Nausea and Ginger, 189
Published Research on Nausea and Citrus Oils, 191
Published Research on Nausea and Mixtures of Essential Oils, 192
BOX 9-1 | Some Causes of Nausea and Vomiting, 183
his chapter will discuss some of the published research on nausea and is divided
into different essential oils for easy reading. It also includes some unpublished studies carried out by my students. A table of relevant research is provided in each section.
Nausea can have many causes, but the two main ones in a clinical setting are
chemo-induced and postoperative nausea. Nausea and vomiting are symptoms experienced by 50% of patients receiving chemotherapy and radiotherapy (Lua & Zakaria
2012). Postoperative nausea and vomiting (PONV) continue to be a major cause of
patient dissatisfaction affecting up to 60% of patients (Reagan et al 2009). Between
20% and 60% of patients who receive morphine become nauseated (de Pradier 2006).
Although nausea does not always lead to actual vomiting, the causes of nausea
and vomiting are similar. Nausea is activated by the chemoreceptor trigger zone
(CTZ) and has five different receptors that may activate it. Nausea and vomiting
can have numerous causes (Box 9-1).
The choice of antiemetic drug prescribed is determined by the cause of the nausea
(Clare et al 2011). There are seven basic categories of antiemetic agents used in
CHAPTER 9 | Nausea and Vomiting
BOX 9-1 Some Causes of Nausea and Vomiting
Gastrointestinal Causes
Stomach or intestinal irritation, gastroenteritis
Any type of abdominal surgery, but in particular gall bladder and gynecologic
Hypertrophic pyloric stenosis
Central Nervous System Causes
Loss of sense of balance resulting from middle or inner ear trauma, labyrinthitis
Sensory responses in the brain activated by smell, sight, or emotion
Increased pressure in the brain (caused by tumors, hemorrhage, meningitis)
Head injury
Psychiatric disorder/anxiety
Chemoreceptor trigger areas that respond either to natural chemicals produced by the
body (e.g., kidney and pancreas) or to motion sickness
Metabolic Causes
Diabetes with gastroparesis
Prescription: narcotics/opiates (McNatty 2008)
Recreational (Hill & Thomas 2011)
inhalational volatile gases
conventional medicine: antihistamines, anticholinergics, corticosteroids, cannabinoids, benzodiazepines, dopamine antagonists, and serotonin antagonists.
Antihistamines (dramamine, diphenhydramine, hydroxyzine) affect the organ
of balance as well as the vomiting center of the brain. These drugs also have an effect
on the CTZ, and they block the histamine and dopamine receptors. In addition,
they inhibit acetylcholine. Antihistamines work by reducing the sensitivity of the
vomiting center to input from the inner ear, although they do not directly affect
the inner ear.
Because the vomiting center of the brain is stimulated by the neurotransmitter
acetylcholine, one of the most direct ways of inhibiting vomiting is to use anticholinergic drugs (atropine, scopolamine, hyoscyamine). Transdermal scopolamine
provides up to 72 hours of antiemetic treatment and is mainly used for the treatment of motion sickness. However, long-term use of anticholinergic drugs can
cause side effects such as poor digestion, dry mouth, blurred vision, and constipation. Corticosteroids (dexamethasone, prednisone) can help to reduce nausea
SECTION II | Clinical Use of Aromatherapy
associated with chemotherapy but can cause side effects such as mania, insomnia,
gastric irritation, and avascular necrosis (AVN). Cannabinoids (dronabinol) have
been used to treat nausea and vomiting in patients with end-stage illness, but they
have limited effectiveness as a result of irregular absorption rates. Cannabinoids
often take several days to weeks to reach therapeutic blood levels and have the side
effect of uncomfortable dizziness or euphoria. Benzodiazepines such as lorazepam
have been used to treat nausea. These drugs often cause dry mouth and drowsiness.
The neurochemical that stimulates the CTZ is dopamine. Dopamine antagonists (e.g., prochlorperazine, chlorpromazine, haloperidol, metoclopramide, and
droperidol) work by blocking dopamine-mediated transmission, thereby relieving
nausea. Dopamine antagonists have common side effects of extrapyramidal symptoms, which limit their use.
Serotonin agonists (5-HT3) such as granisetron, azesetron, and odansetron
(Zofran) are safe and effective in controlling nausea (Endo et al 2012) and are frequently considered first-line antiemetic agents. These medications have fewer side
effects compared to other classes of antiemetics; however, these drugs are often
prohibitively expensive (Ishimuru 2008).
Because the etiology of nausea and vomiting is multifactorial, using several different medications makes the most sense. Numerous studies have shown that combination therapy using different categories of antiemetic medications works better
than single-agent antiemetic treatment.
Nonpharmacologic Techniques
Nontraditional techniques used for treatment of nausea and vomiting include
methods such as acupuncture, acupressure, electroacupuncture, and hypnosis.
Although conventional approaches are often very effective in managing nausea and
vomiting, some patients are intolerant of drug side effects or unable to afford them.
Aromatherapy can be tried before conventional medicine and used alongside it
(Buckle 2007). The main method of use is direct inhalation to the patient via: (1) aromasticks; (2) aromapatches; (3) aromapackets; and (4) aroma nasal clips. For more
information on these methods, please see the section of applications in Chapter 2.
There are several published reviews on aromatherapy for nausea (Ernst & Pittler
2000; Kitzler & Nolan 2009; Hines et al 2012; Lua & Zakaria 2012). These reviews
will be discussed in relation to the relevant essential oil.
Peppermint (Mentha piperita) has been a classic choice for the treatment of nausea
for hundreds of years. Used primarily to treat nausea, rather than actual vomiting, peppermint essential oil is effective both in vitro and in vivo. Peppermint also
has recognized antispasmodic effects and relieves colonic spasm within 30 seconds
(Leicester & Hunt 1982). It also reduced postoperative colic and nausea following
CHAPTER 9 | Nausea and Vomiting
colostomies (McKenzie & Gallacher 1989; Asao et al 2001). Both Valnet (1990) and
Franchomme and Penoel (1980), pioneers of clinical aromatherapy, state that peppermint is an antiemetic. Grigoleit and Grigoleit (2005) reviewed nine clinical trials
on the use of peppermint essential oil given orally for gastrointestinal disorders. In
most of the studies, there was a substantial soothing effect on the gut with a single
dose (0.1 to 0.24 mL per participant).
A recent review of the scientific evidence by Lua & Zakaria (2012) found that
the existing evidence for inhaling essential oil of peppermint as an antiemetic was
“encouraging, but not yet compelling.” They searched CINAHL (Cumulative Index
to Nursing and Allied Health Literature), Pubmed, EBSCO Host, and Science
Direct and found five articles that met their criteria with 328 patients. The results
suggested that inhaled peppermint or ginger reduced the incidence and severity of
both nausea and vomiting and decreased the need for conventional medication. It
is worth noting that databases such as Chemical Abstracts, AGRICOLA, EMBASE,
and specialist journals such as Flavor & Fragrance Journal, Journal of Essential Oils
Research, and the International Journal of Clinical Aromatherapy were not searched;
information from these sources might have added more weight to the conclusion.
One of the earliest promising studies on postoperative nausea using peppermint
was by Tate (1997). This was a controlled study on 18 patients following major gynecologic surgery. Group 1 received no treatment, group 2 received peppermint essence,
and group 3 received peppermint essential oil. Participants in group 3 were asked to
inhale directly from the bottle when they were nauseated. Measurement was made on a
five-point scale ranging from 0 (no nausea) to 4 (about to vomit). The amount of antiemetic drug (metoclopramide [Maxolon], prochlorperazine [Stemetil], and ondansetron [Zofran]) used was measured. Participants in the experimental group needed
50% fewer antiemetics. The Kruskal–Wallis test was used to establish significance,
P = 0.0487. The cost per treatment was approximately US 75 cents (UK 48 pence).
Stringer & Donald (2011) found that aromasticks containing peppermint and
lemon were effective to reduce nausea in patients at the Christie Hospital, Manchester, UK, using a retrospective service evaluation. Patients referred to the complementary therapy service were offered an aromastick to help with anxiety, nausea,
or sleep; 160 patients accepted the offer. Patient details were taken. One week later
participants were followed up by a different person who documented how often the
aromastick was used and the perceived benefits. Forty-seven percent of nauseous
patients said the aromastick had settled their nausea.
One of the “noncompelling” clinical trials mentioned by Lua and Zakaria
(2012) was a study on the effect of inhaled peppermint on 33 postoperative patients
in Connecticut conducted by Anderson and Gross (2004). Participants discovered
that inhaling peppermint essential oil from a gauze swab reduced their nausea
(P = 0.005); however, so did taking deep breaths. A second “noncompelling” study
was by Ferruggiari et al (2012). Their results were also disappointing; however, the
authors state that “most participants received intraoperative antiemetics and did
not report nausea postoperatively.” Then, in a Cochrane review, Hines et al (2012)
dismissed the use of inhaled peppermint as an effective antiemetic.
SECTION II | Clinical Use of Aromatherapy
However, a very positive study by Hunt et al (2012) from the Department of
Anesthesia at Carolinas Medical Center, Charlotte, North Carolina, was published
almost at the same time as the Cochrane review. This study did not use peppermint
on its own but a mixture that contained peppermint. This study will be discussed
further under the section on essential oil mixture.
RJ Buckle students have conducted six pilot studies on inhaled peppermint for
nausea for their certification (Table 9-1). For published studies on nausea, please
see Tables 9-2, 9-3, 9-4, and 9-5.
One of the first RJ Buckle studies was carried out at the oncology center of
St. Luke’s Hospital in New Bedford, Massachusetts (Figuenick 1998). Ten chemotherapy patients inhaled peppermint and found it effective in reducing their nausea and
were able to reduce their use of medication (Zofran and Compazine). Zofran is very
expensive, and Compazine causes sedation. In fact, peppermint proved so effective
that those in the control group demanded the peppermint, and the control part of the
TABLE 9-1 Nausea Studies Carried out by RJ Buckle Students
Type of Nausea
Essential Oil
Opiate detox
General nausea
Motion sickness
Ginger and
and fennel
TABLE 9-2 Published Research on Nausea and Peppermint
Anderson & Gross
Stringer & Donald
Ferruggiari et al
Hines et al
Essential Oil
CHAPTER 9 | Nausea and Vomiting
study collapsed. Of the patients in this study, 84% stated that essential oil of peppermint relieved their nausea, and 71% found that it enhanced their standard antiemetic
medication. One patient found that it enhanced his appetite. Inhaled peppermint is
now routinely offered in many chemotherapy units in the United States and in the UK.
Chalifour (2005) conducted a pilot study using peppermint to ease nausea in
patients detoxing from opiate and crack addiction at the Cooley-Dickenson Hospital, Northampton, Massachusetts. Peppermint was inhaled 30 minutes before
meals. Subjects rated their nausea using a Clinical Institute Withdrawal Assessment (CIWA) form. This scale was used before meals (breakfast and lunch). There
appeared to be a 100% reduction in nausea.
Piotroswki (2005) offered an aromastick containing peppermint to 17 hospital patients with nausea in Madison, Wisconsin. Nausea was rated pre- and posttest with the Edmonton Symptom Assessment System numerical scale. The results
were statistically significant using a paired t test (P = 0.0002). Irby (2006) recruited
participants from a Woman’s Cancer Resource Center in St. Paul, Minnesota. All
participants (8) were taking antinausea medication (Compazine or Zofran). Seven
participants had marked relief from inhaling peppermint that lasted from 30 minutes to several hours. Lowdermilk (2007) offered her participants a choice of either
peppermint or ginger for their chemo-induced nausea. All participants (10) were
taking conventional antiemetic drugs but were having breakthroughs. All preferred
peppermint to ginger, and all found it helpful.
Spearmint has an antiemetic effect and may be effective for longer periods than peppermint because it works on different areas of the brain to peppermint (Lawrence
2001). Tayarani-Najaran et al (2013) conducted a randomized, placebo-controlled,
double-blind study comparing spearmint (Mentha spicata) and peppermint (Mentha piperita) against placebo and control. Two drops of spearmint essential oil and
two drops of peppermint essential oil were added to sugar and given in capsules. The
first treatment was given 30 minutes before the patients received their chemotherapy
treatment, then 4 hours later, and the last dose was given after a further 4 hours at
home. There was a significant reduction in the “number of emetic events” in the first
24 hours after chemotherapy for both spearmint and peppermint essential oil (P <
0.05). There was no difference between the antiemetic effects of peppermint and
spearmint. The cost of conventional drugs was also reduced when an essential oil
was used. Reagan et al (2009) and Hunt et al (2012) both used spearmint in the mixtures of essential oils they used in their studies. Please see the section on mixtures.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale) was introduced in Europe during the middle ages. The
essential oil, which does not smell anything like the dried root or candied ginger,
contains zingiberene. Ginger is an effective remedy for nausea and is particularly
suitable for pregnancy. Vutyavanich et al (1997) studied 70 expectant mothers over
a period of 5 months in a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. They found that
SECTION II | Clinical Use of Aromatherapy
baseline nausea and vomiting decreased significantly in the group using ginger.
Ginger had no adverse effects on the mothers’ pregnancy outcomes.
Published Reviews on Ginger
Ernst and Pittler (2000) conducted a systematic review of randomized trials on the use of ginger for nausea caused by seasickness, morning sickness, and
chemotherapy-­induced nausea. Although their findings were inconclusive, they
conclude “the studies collectively favored ginger over placebo.” Chaiyakunapruk
et al (2006) conducted a meta-analysis of ginger studies for the treatment of postoperative nausea and vomiting and his conclusion was “a fixed dose of at least 1 g
of ginger is more effective than placebo for the prevention of postoperative nausea
and vomiting and postoperative vomiting.” In 2005, a review by Borrelli et al found
that “ginger may be an effective treatment for nausea and vomiting in pregnancy.”
Boone and Shields (2005) conducted a review of studies using ginger (orally) for
pregnancy-related nausea. The conclusion was that ginger was a “low-risk, cost
effective and efficacious treatment for nausea in pregnancy.” However, a Cochrane
review (Matthews et al 2010) found “the use of ginger products may be helpful to
women, but evidence of effectiveness was limited and not consistent.”
Published Studies on Ginger
In 2004, Tad Gieger, MD, completed his study on the use of inhaled ginger essential oil on 92 patients with PONV for RJ Buckle certification (Table 9-1). As an
anesthesiologist, he had a personal interest in PONV. Patients were randomly allocated to the ginger group or a control group. In the ginger group, patients received
5% ginger administered nasocutaneously before surgery and applied immediately
postoperatively (so the effect would be primarily inhalation). The control group
received standard medical treatment. The results showed that in the ginger group
only 7/43 patients had PONV nausea, and in the control group 24/49 had PONV.
He published his study in 2005.
Panahi et al (2012) used ginger to reduce chemo-induced nausea in a study of
100 female patients with advanced breast cancer in the oncology unit of Baqiyatallah Hospital, Tehran, Iran. In this case, ginger root was taken orally in capsules
30 minutes before chemotherapy. It appeared to cause a significant reduction in
nausea. Ginger essential oil would be a logical follow on from Panahi’s study. The
chemistry of ginger essential oil supports this because many of the antiemetic components in the whole herb are also found in the essential oil (Hertz 2009).
In the study by Hunt et al (2012) participants were randomly allocated to one
of four groups. Group 1 received ginger essential oil on its own. Group 2 received a
mixture of ginger, spearmint, peppermint, and cardamom. Group 3 received isopropyl alcohol as the placebo. Group 4 received saline as the control. Hospital patients
(n = 303) were randomly allocated to one of the four arms. Patients with a nausea
level of 1 to 3 on a verbal descriptive scale (0-3) received a 2 × 2 gauze pad. The gauze
pad contained one cubic centimeter that had been saturated with the randomly chosen aromatherapy agent (ginger, aromatherapy mixture, placebo or control) and were
CHAPTER 9 | Nausea and Vomiting
told to inhale deeply three times. Nausea (0-3) was measured again 5 minutes later.
Ginger produced a statistically significant reduction in nausea (P = 0.002), but not
in the placebo control group (P = 0.76). The essential oil mixture produced a greater
effect (P = 0.001) than ginger on its own. The number of antiemetic medications
requested after aromatherapy was significantly reduced for both the ginger and the
aromatherapy mixture versus placebo (P = 0.002 and P < 0.001, respectively).
RJ Buckle students have conducted two pilot studies on inhaled ginger for nausea for their certification (Table 9-1). Tad Geiger’s study (2005) has already been
discussed in this section. The second study was by Karas-Irwin (2006). This was a
feasibility study conducted at Valley Hospital, Ridgewood, New Jersey, to test the
number of patients affected by PONV and was to be followed by a randomized controlled trial to test the effectiveness of inhaled ginger essential oil as an antiemetic.
All patients who agreed to take part and who experienced nausea were offered ginger aromasticks for nausea within 24 hours of orthopedic surgery. The aromasticks
were so effective that the study was stopped and patients are now regularly offered
ginger essential oil in an aromastick to inhale (Mazzer 2013). See Table 9-3 for published studies on ginger and nausea.
There are no studies in the literature using lavender essential oil on its own as an
antiemetic, but several studies have used lavender in a mixture. Lavender was used
with ginger in a mixture by Nord and Belew (2006), and in an RJ Buckle (RJBA)
student study lavender was mixed with fennel and ginger (Annis 2011). These will
be covered in the section on mixtures below.
Everson, another RJBA student, carried out a small project with lavandin
(Lavandula intermedia CT Super) to treat postoperative nausea (2000). She became
intrigued with the antiemetic properties of lavender while undergoing chemotherapy herself. During the 26 weeks Everson received chemotherapy, she never
TABLE 9-3 Published Research on Nausea and Ginger
Essential Oil
Pongrojpaw &
Eberhart et al
Morin et al
Smith et al
Borrelli et al
Boone & Shields
Zick et al
Ensiyeh & Sakineh
Panahi et al
Review: ginger
Review: ginger
SECTION II | Clinical Use of Aromatherapy
vomited and only used six of the prescribed antiemetic pills. All of the women in
her cancer support group were nauseated, and all used most of their antiemetic
pills. Ten patients were included in the exploratory postoperative study, which was
not randomized or controlled. Consent was given by the hospital and each patient
signed an informed consent. After inhaling lavender, only two patients required an
antiemetic postoperatively—a much lower than usual incidence. Although no conclusions can be reached from this study, this chemotype of lavandin might be worth
trying in a mixture with spearmint, peppermint, cardamom, and ginger.
Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum) is listed in the Indian Materia Medica as relieving
vomiting and nausea (Nadkarni 1992); it is one of the oldest essential oils known (Arctander 1994). Cardamom contains 50% α-terpinyl acetate and 1,8-cineole, with small
amounts of borneol, α-terpineol, and limonene. Borneol was shown to be an effective
antagonist of acetylcholine in a study by Cabo et al (1986), and perhaps this compound imbues cardamom with its antiemetic property. A study in rats by Jamal et al
(2006) showed that cardamom has antiemetic properties. However, there are no studies using cardamom (as a single essential oil) on humans for nausea in the published
literature. However, cardamom has been used as part of an aromatherapy mixture
in two clinical trials. The first mixture was with ginger, spearmint, and peppermint
(Hunt et al 2012). The results of this study supported the investigators’ hypothesis that
“aromatherapy would be effective as a treatment for PON.” The other study was by
de Pradier (2006). This study used a mixture of cardamom, ginger, and tarragon
applied to the necks of 73 patients. Seventy-five percent reported a reduction in nausea. It would be worth exploring the effect of cardamom singly for human nausea.
Citrus Peel Oils
In a study by Ndao et al (2012), 37 pediatric patients undergoing stem cell infusion
were offered bergamot to inhale before therapy. Bergamot did not appear to reduce
either anxiety or nausea. However, in a study by Potter et al (2011) in Portland, Oregon, sweet orange appeared to significantly reduce nausea in 72 patients (P = 0.032).
In this study, orange was either inhaled or eaten in slices. This is not as strange as
it seems; Sicilian mothers offer their children slices of orange when their children
become seasick. Price and Price (2012) cite lemon as being effective against nausea.
However, I could find nothing to substantiate this in the published literature. Just
because there is nothing yet in the published literature does not mean they are not
effective clinically, so lemon essential oil would be interesting to try either singly or
in a mixture. For published studies on citrus and nausea, please see Table 9-4.
Aniseed, Caraway, Clove, and Fennel
Aniseed (Anethum graveolens), caraway (Carvum carvi), fennel (Foeniculum
­vulgare), and clove (Eugenia caryophyllata) are listed in Potter’s New Cyclopaedia of Botanical Drugs and Preparations as carminatives (Wren 1988). Although
these are not antiemetic, they may make an antinausea mixture more robust.
CHAPTER 9 | Nausea and Vomiting
TABLE 9-4 Published Research on Nausea and Citrus Oils
Stringer & Donald
Potter et al
Ndao et al
Essential Oil
Stem cell
Stem cell
*Orange slices eaten and/or sweet orange essential oil inhaled.
Carum copticum (related to caraway and with a similar kind of smell) was found to
reduce contraction activity in rat’s ileum (Hejazian et al 2009). Carum copticum has
a long history of use in Iran for intestinal complaints going back as far as Avicenna
(Avesina 1985). This might be another essential oil to add to an antiemetic mixture.
Reagan et al (2009) used a mixture containing ginger, peppermint, spearmint, and
lavender delivered in an aromastick on 98 patients in the postanesthesia care unit
(PACU) following total join replacement at Gaston Memorial Hospital, North Carolina. Fifty percent of patients experienced nausea. Thirty-nine percent of patients
used the aromastick and it reduced their nausea.
Hunt et al (2012), who conducted a study on 303 patients (see the Ginger section), found that the aromatherapy mixture (ginger, spearmint, peppermint, and cardamom) produced a greater reduction in nausea than ginger on its own. The study
concludes “aromatherapy is promising as an inexpensive, noninvasive treatment for
RJBA Studies
Two RJBA students (Nord and Annis) conducted pilot studies using mixtures for
nausea for their certification. Nord (2006) used a lavender/ginger mixture on 99
pediatric patients. The lavender/ginger mixture or placebo (jojoba) was applied to
pulse points before surgery and covered with a Band-Aid. One drop was also placed
on a cotton ball that was then attached to the patient’s hospital gown for future
inhalation. The mixture was reapplied 3 hours later when necessary. The outcome
measure was a standard pediatric tool: face, legs, activity, cry, and consolation (the
FLACC scale). The hospital statistician reviewed the data and the results were significant (P = 0.04). For published studies on nausea and mixtures of essential oils,
please see Table 9-5.
Annis (2011) explored the antiemetic effects of fennel and ginger on motion
sickness (seasickness). Originally, 24 people had been approached, but only 13 were
recruited. However, five of the dissenting people then wanted to join the study
when they saw the positive effects of inhaling the mixture on reducing seasickness.
All 18 who took part and inhaled the fennel and ginger mixture had a reduction in
nausea. This was an interesting informal study on a group of people during a whalewatching boat trip.
SECTION II | Clinical Use of Aromatherapy
TABLE 9-5 Published Research on Nausea and Mixtures of Essential Oils
Essential Oil
de Pradier
Stringer &
Hunt et al
Ginger, cardamom,
*Mixture = Pimpinella anisum, Foeniculum vulgare var. dulce, Anthemis nobilis, and Mentha × piperita.
Importance of Individual Preference in Choice
of Essential Oil
Because there are several essential oils with antiemetic effects, it is a good idea to
ask patients which essential oils they prefer because this is more likely to produce a
positive effect. This highlights the importance of learned memory and of involving
patients in choosing their oils. The method of application is usually inhalation—
aromasticks, patches, or packets. However, a gentle abdominal rub can be very beneficial to a child or anxious patient who is sick with worry rather than nauseated for
physical reasons.
Anderson L, Gross J. 2004. Aromatherapy with peppermint, isopropyl alcohol or placebo is equally
­effective in relieving postoperative nausea. J Perianesth Nurs. 19(1):29–35
Annis M. 2011. Inhaled ginger for seasickness during boat trip to watch whales. Unpublished dissertation for RJBA certification.
Arctander S. 1994. Perfume and Flavor Materials of Natural Origin. Carol Stream, IL: Allured Publishing.
Asao T, Mochiki E, Suzuki H et al. 2001. An easy method for the intraluminal administration of peppermint
oil before colonoscopy and its effectiveness in reducing colonic spasm. Gastrointest Endosc. 53:172–7.
Avesina A. 1985. Law in Medicine. Soroush Press, Tehran, 2:187.
Beagham C. 2002. Peppermint for postoperative nausea. Unpublished dissertation for RJ Buckle Associates.
Boone S, Shields K. 2005. Treatment of pregnancy-related nausea and vomiting with ginger. Ann Pharmacother. 39:1710–3.
Borrelli F, Capasso R, Aviello G, Pittler M, Izzo A. 2005. Effectiveness and safety of ginger in the treatment of pregnancy-induced nausea and vomiting. Obstet Gynecol. 105(4):849–56.
Buckle J. 2007. Should nursing take aromatherapy more seriously? J Advanced Nurs. 16:116–20.
Cabo J, Crespo M, Jimenez J, Navarro C. 1986. The spasmolytic activity of various aromatic plants from
the province of Granada. The activity of the major components of their essential oils. Plantes Medicinales et Phytotherapy. 20(5):213–218
Chaiyakunapruk N, Kitakannakom N, Nathisuwan S, Leeprakobboon K, Leelasettagool C. 2006. The
efficacy of ginger for the prevention of postoperative nausea and vomiting: a meta-analysis. Am J
Obstet Gynecol. 194(1):95–9.
Chalifour M. 2005. Peppermint as anti-emetic in Opiate detox. Unpublished dissertation for RJBA
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Clare P, Miller J, Nikolova T, Tickoo R. 2011. Treating nausea and vomiting in palliative care: a review.
Clin Interv Aging. 6:243–59.
de Pradier. 2006. A trial of a mixture of three essential oils in the treatment of postoperative nausea and
vomiting. Int J Aromather. 16(1):15–20.
Eberhart LH, Mayer R, Betz O, Tsolakidis S, Hilpert W et al. 2003. Ginger does not prevent post-­
operative nausea and vomiting after laparoscopic surgery. Anesth Analg. 96(4):995–8.
Endo J, Iihara H, Yamada M, Yanase K, Kamiya F, Ito F, Funaguchi N, Ohno Y, Minatoguchi S,
Itoh Y. 2012. A randomized, controlled non-inferiority study comparing the antiemetic effect of
intravenous granisetron and oral azesetron based on estimated 5-HT3 receptor occupancy. A
­ nticancer
Res. 32(9):3939–47.
Ensiyeh J, Sakineh M. 2009. Comparing ginger and vitamin B6 for the treatment of nausea and vomiting
in pregnancy: a randomised controlled trial. Midwifery. 25(6):649–53.
Ernst E, Pittler M. 2000. Efficacy of ginger for nausea and vomiting: a systematic review of randomized
clinical trials. Br J Anaesth. 84(3):367–71.
Evenson C. 2000. Lavandula intermedia (DT Super) as a post-operative anti-emetic. Unpublished dissertation. RJ Buckle Associates LLC.
Ferruggiari L, Ragione B, Rich E, Lock K. 2012. The effect of aromatherapy on postoperative nausea in
women undergoing surgical procedures. J Perianesth Nurse. 27(4):246–51.
Figuenick R. 1998. Essential oil of peppermint: a 3-part audit on nausea. Unpublished dissertation.
RJ Buckle Associates LLC.
Franchomme P, Penoel D. 1980. L’aromatherapie Exactement. Jollois, Limoge, France.
Geiger J. 2005. The essential oil of ginger, Zingiber officinale, and anaesthesia. Int J Aromather.
Gilligan N. 2005. The palliation of nausea in hospice and palliative care patients with essential oils of
Pimpinella anisum (aniseed), Foeniculum vul-gar var (sweet fennel), Anthemis nobilis (Roman
Chamomile) and Mentha x piperita (peppermint). The International Journal of Aromatherapy. 15:
Grigoleit HG, Grigoleit P. 2005. Gastrointestinal clinical pharmacology of peppermint oil. Phytomed.
Hejazian S, Dashti M, Mahdavi S, Qureshi M. 2009. The effect of Carum copticun on acetylcholine
­induced contraction in isolated rat’s ileum. J Acupunct Meridian Stud. 2(1): 75–78.
Hertz R. 2009. Aromatherapy facts and fictions: a scientific analysis of olfactory effects on mood, physiology and behaviour. Int J Neurosc. 119:263–90.
Hill S, Thomas S. 2011. Clinical toxicology of recreational drugs. Clin Toxicol (Phila). 49(8):705–19.
Hines S, Steels E, Change A, Gibbons K. 2012. Aromatherapy for treatment of postoperative nausea and
vomiting. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 18(4):CD007598.
Hunt R, Dienemann J, Norton J, Hartley W et al. 2012. Aromatherapy as treatment for postoperative
nausea: a randomized trial. Anesth Anal. [Epub ahead of print].
Irby S. 2006. Inhaled peppermint for relief of chemo induced nausea. Unpublished dissertation for RJBA.
Ishimuru H, Takayama S, Shiokawa M, Inoue T. 2008. Cost-effectiveness analysis of 5-HT3 receptor
antagonist drugs in cancer chemotherapy. Gan To Kagaku Ryoho. 35(4):619–23.
Jamal A, Jarved K, Aslam M, Jafri M. 2006. Gastroprotective effect of cardamom, Elettaria cardamomum
Maton fruits in rats. J Ethnopharmacol. 103(2):149–53.
Karas-Irwin B. 2006. A feasibility study on inhaled ginger for post operative nausea. Unpublished dissertation for RJBA certification.
Kitzler R, Nolan S. 2009. The role of aromatherapy in postoperative nausea and vomiting. Onc Nurs
Forum. 36: 47.
Leicester R, Hunt R. 1982. Peppermint oil to reduce colonic spasm during endoscopy. Lancet.
Lawrence B. 2001. Personal communication, September 2001.
Lowdermilk G. 2007. Peppermint and ginger for chemo-induced nausea. Unpublished dissertation for RJBA.
Lua P, Zakaria N. 2012. A brief review of current scientific evidence involving aromatherapy use for
nausea and vomiting. J Alt Comp Med. 18(6):534–40.
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McKenzie J, Gallacher M. 1989. A sweet-smelling success: use of peppermint oil in helping patients
­accept their colostomies. Nursing Times. 85(27):48–9.
Matthews A, Dowswell T, Haas D, Doyle M, O’Mathuna D. 2010. Interventions for nausea and vomiting in early pregnancy. Cochrane Database Syst Review. 8(9):CD007575. doi: 10.1002/14651858.
Mazzer M. 2013. Holistic Nursing Department, Valley Hospital, Ridgewood, NJ. Personal communication.
McNatty D. 2008. Side effect solutions: helping patients avoid drug-induced nausea. Pharmacy Times. http://
www.pharmacytimes.com/publications/issue/2008/2008-08/2008-08-8642. Accessed October 20, 2012.
Morin A, Betz O, Kranke P, Geldner G, Wulf H, Eberhart L. 2004. Is ginger a relevant antiemetic for postoperative nausea and vomiting? Anasthesiol Intensivmed Notfallmed Schmerzther. 39(5):281-5.
Nadkarni K. 1992. Indian Materia Medica, Vol. 1. Prakashan, India: Bombay Popular.
Ndao D, Ladas E, Cheng B, Sands S et al. 2012. Inhalation aromatherapy in children and adolescents
undergoing stem cell infusion: results of a placebo-controlled double-blind trial. Psychooncology.
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Panahi Y, Saadat A, Sahebkar A et al. 2012. Effect of ginger on acute and delayed chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting: a pilot, randomized, open-label clinical trial. Integr Cancer Ther. [Epub ahead of print.]
Piotroswki A. 2005. Peppermint to relieve nausea in hospitalized patients. Unpublished dissertation.
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Pongrojpar D, Chiamchanya C. 2003. The efficacy of ginger in preventing post-operative nausea and
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Pain and Inflammation
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did,
but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Maya Angelou
TABLE 10-1
TABLE 10-2
TABLE 10-3
TABLE 10-4
TABLE 10-5
Essential Oils Suitable for Chronic Pain, 200
Essential Oils and Animal Studies, 204
Essential Oils for Pain Relief in Human Studies, 205
Studies Carried out on Pain by RJ Buckle Students, 206
Analgesic Components Within Essential Oils, 211
Pain is an unpleasant sensation experienced when nociceptors are stimulated
(Brooker 2008). Although there are physical dimensions that reflect a commonality
of pain in humans, the experience of pain is unique to the individual (Fields 1997)
and pain relief is influenced by individual perceptions and experience (Shi et al
2010). People who live with pain on a daily basis have, what is to them, a clear way
of describing what they feel. If the pain changes, they know it. However, describing
pain to someone who does not experience that pain can be problematic. Descriptions of pain vary greatly. Apart from the site of the pain (for example, abdominal),
one of the most important aspects to consider is the onset of pain. The onset clarifies which kind of pain is involved: acute or chronic.
Aromatherapy may be useful with some of the problems associated with acute
pain, for example, prolonged length of healing and increased length of stay in acute
care facilities. However, this chapter will concentrate on aromatherapy for chronic
pain because it appears to be more beneficial for chronic pain according to the
Chronic pain is a global issue. According to the Institute of Medicine (IOM)
report (2011), chronic pain affects about 100 million Americans, and associated
medical charges and lost productivity cost around $635 billion annually. This is a
SECTION II | Clinical Use of Aromatherapy
low estimate because it excludes children, those in the armed services, residents of
nursing homes or those in long-term care facilities. Under the Patient Protection
and Affordable Care Act (2012) in the United States, there are 16 recommendations
for action and these include “reducing barriers to pain control.” In the UK, the UK
Pain Proposal Report (2011) found that 45% of the estimated 7.8 million people living with chronic pain did not have access to adequate management for their pain.
In Australia, according to ABC national radio (2011), one in five Australians has
chronic pain, costing the government an estimated $34.4 billion per year. Canadians are also struggling with the management of chronic pain and have estimated
costs of over $6 billion per year (Schopflocher & Taenmzer 2011). Chronic pain has
also become a major issue in Japan (Yamamoto et al 2010).
Pain is one of the most commonly addressed symptoms in a clinical setting,
and of all the symptoms we experience in hospitals, it is the one we fear the most.
Because pain is such a complex subject, specific types of pain such as arthritis, childbirth, menstrual pain, and neuralgic pain will be discussed in the chapters on care
of the elderly, OB/GYN, and neurology, respectively. This chapter will examine
the use of aromatherapy for alleviating various kinds of chronic pain. It discusses
animal and human research regarding the use of whole essential oils and individual
components within essential oils.
Physiology of Pain
Pain is an experience that affects us on many different levels: emotional, sensory,
motivational, and cognitive (Mersky 1986). Pain is a complex neurophysiologic
phenomenon (Alavi et al 1997) that can be described as somatic, neuropathic, or
visceral. Somatic pain is well localized, persistent, and is often described as sharp or
stabbing. Neuropathic pain is usually described as burning, numbing, or shooting
and originates from compression or stimulation of a nerve. Visceral pain tends to
be poorly localized, dull, and aching and involves an AC fiber ratio of 1:10 in visceral afferents. In normal adults, the ability to detect pain is completely removed
when A and C axons are blocked (Fields 1997). When pain triggers the nociceptors
(pain receptors), it is translated or transduced into electrical activity. The electrical
impulse is then transmitted to the spinal cord via the dorsal root and relayed to the
thalamus in the brain via the afferent pathways.
Pain is often divided into acute and chronic. Acute pain is short lasting and has
a well-defined pattern of onset. Chronic pain persists beyond the expected period
of healing (Casey 2002) and is associated with a degenerative or chronic pathologic
process such as arthritis. However, sometimes the cause of pain is elusive, for example,
in fibromyalgia and complex regional pain syndrome.
The thalamus is involved in pain perception and interpretation (Alavi et al 1997)
and is part of the limbic system that analyzes smell; therefore, there is an implicit
suggestion that smell may affect the perception of pain. Primary nociceptors activate spinal pain-transmission cells through two neurotransmitters, glutamate (an
amine) and substance P (a peptide), which are present in C fibers (Fields 1997).
Greer (1995) noted substance P immunoreactive processes throughout the laminae
CHAPTER 10 | Pain and Inflammation
of the olfactory bulb. Substance P is released from peripheral sensory neurons in
inflammatory and neuropathic pain (Teodoro et al 2012). A variety of chemical
agents can activate the primary afferent nociceptors. These include serotonin and
potassium. If the tissue is damaged or inflamed, the sensitivity of the nociceptors
is heightened. The whole process results in a subjective, sensory, and emotional
experience of pain.
Visceral pain is usually blocked by substances similar to opioids that are naturally produced (Sofaer & Foord 1993). The body can produce enkephalin, an
opioid-like peptide that occurs in three forms: beta-endorphin, the met- and leuenkephalins, and the dynorphins. These peptides work as neurotransmitters and
neuromodulators at three major classes of receptors, mu, delta, and kappa, to produce analgesia (Holden et al 2005).
Etiology of Pain
There are many possible causes of pain: a simple headache can have a dozen predisposing factors including low blood sugar, sinusitis, stress, alcohol, hormonal imbalance, or a brain tumor. Pain is a complex issue because it is so intensely personal and
closely linked to feelings and expectations (Atlas & Wager 2012). Pain may affect
psychosocial issues, such as decreased social interactions, decreased work productivity, financial problems, impaired relationships, etc. Some people lose their faith.
Some feel vulnerable and feel a sense of hopelessness. Goleman (1996) writes in
his book Emotional Intelligence that humanity is most evident in our feelings and
“emotional intervention should be a standard part of medical care” (p 165). Anxiety and tension are thought to heighten pain, whereas pleasure and relaxation may
decrease pain. Most people find it difficult to relax when they are in pain and difficult to alter their own perception of pain unaided.
Orthodox Approaches to Pain
Over a decade ago, the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO), an organization that accredits the majority of the medical facilities
in the United States, developed a new mandatory standard for the assessment and
treatment of pain (Berry & Dahl 2000). They mandated that pain assessment should
be the “5th vital sign.” It was the first time JCAHO (now known as The Joint Commission) or any other accrediting body had issued standards focusing on pain awareness
and management. Institutions had to work out how they were going to meet the new
standards and what they needed to do to deal effectively with a patient in pain. As
part of these standards, medical institutions are required to inform patients of their
right to appropriate pain assessment and treatment. The assessment includes documenting the level and characteristics of each person’s pain using a numeric scale of
0-10 or pictures of expressive faces (http://www.jointcommission.org/). No patient
should score his or her pain above a four. Institutions are required to develop protocols for pain management and to educate their staff on pain management.
Analgesics are among the most widely used medications in the United States
(Sinclair 2012) and probably worldwide. Analgesics are divided into opioids
SECTION II | Clinical Use of Aromatherapy
(narcotics) and nonopioids. The use of opioids is strictly regulated. Originally, narcotics were opioid derivatives and came from the plant Papaver somniferum. Recent
advances in pharmacology have resulted in the development of several synthetic
analgesics that work on the opioid receptors in the brain.
Narcotic/Opioid Drugs
Morphine, diamorphine, dihydrocodeine, hydrocodone, and fentanyl are examples of opioid drugs. Derived from the opium poppy, morphine and its derivatives
work by binding to opioid receptors in the central nervous system (CNS) to reduce
pain. Newer synthetic opioid drugs, for example, tramadol and hydrocodone, may
have additional effects on serotonin and norepinephrine levels. Opioid drugs may
reduce the ability to concentrate as well as reduce pain. The respiratory and cough
centers are also depressed by morphine, as is the neurotransmitter acetylcholine.
Codeine, a common but milder narcotic, is also derived from the opium poppy
(Martin 1994). Codeine is used to suppress dry coughs as well as for the relief of
general pain. Opioids are potentially addictive. Although previously it was thought
that narcotics were less likely to be addictive for someone experiencing chronic
pain (Carter 1996), some people dispute this (Juurlink & Dhalia 2012). Major side
effects of opioids are constipation, nausea, and dry mouth. Adding other analgesics,
such as paracetamol, nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), or cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) inhibitors to patient-controlled analgesia (PCA) reduced the
amount of morphine the patient used significantly (McDaid et al 2011). Continued
use may lead to tolerance, dependence, or addiction.
Common Nonopioid/Nonnarcotic Drugs
Major drugs in this category are aspirin, acetaminophen (paracetamol), anticonvulsants, antidepressants, and nonsteroidal/steroidal antiinflammatory drugs
(Sullivan & Robinson 2006). Aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) has antiinflammatory
as well as analgesic effects. Originally aspirin was derived from salacin, a glycoside
found in the bark of the willow tree (Salix alba). Aspirin blocks prostaglandin
synthesis in both the CNS and the peripheral nervous system. Acetaminophen
(called Tylenol in the United States and panadol or paracetamol in the UK) is a
painkiller that has no antiinflammatory effects (Brooker 2008). One of the main
drawbacks to paracetamol is its toxicity at relatively low doses: 10 to 15 g can cause
liver damage (Brooker 2008).
Antiinflammatory Drugs
Antiinflammatory drugs are also used for both acute and chronic pain. Despite
being very useful, they can have adverse side effects. Antiinflammatory drugs are
divided into two main categories: nonsteroidal (NSAIDs) and steroidal.
Aspirin is the most common NSAID and has a long history of use. Yin et al (1998)
found that aspirin inhibited transcription factors that coded the production of
CHAPTER 10 | Pain and Inflammation
prostaglandin synthase enzymes. Lyss et al (1997) discovered that helenalin, a lactone found in Arnica, inhibited the same transcription factor, but in a different way.
However, blocking prostaglandin synthesis can give rise to specific side effects. All
NSAIDs, including aspirin-based antiinflammatories, can increase gastric bleeding
in patients with gastric ulcers. This results from the inhibition of prostaglandin E2
(PGE2) that suppresses gastric acid secretion. NSAIDs can also prolong bleeding
as they inhibit production of thromboxane (Ward 1993). They can also upset the
fluid balance and affect renal blood flow. They can cause bronchospasm and nasal
polyposis in susceptible individuals, and they can delay the onset of labor as they
can reduce the contractile effects of prostaglandins on the uterine muscles (Kvam
1994). Indomethacin is often used when salicylates are not tolerated. However, in
arthritic patients, indomethacin can lead to a high incidence of CNS effects if the
dose is high.
Steroid-Based Antiinflammatory Drugs
Despite being superior to NSAIDs (and affecting the inflammatory process at each
level), steroidal antiinflammatory drugs have many side effects. These include
hyperglycemia leading to diabetes, myopathy, increased intraocular pressure with
the potential for glaucoma, electrolyte imbalance leading to hypertension, thinning
of the skin with an increased tendency for poor healing and skin breakdown, hirsutism, insomnia, depression, and psychosis (Craig 1994). These drugs are usually
avoided in long-term treatment. However, steroidal antiinflammatory drugs have
provided relief for chronic inflammation and will continue to be used until other
drugs with fewer side effects are found. Infliximab, which belongs to a relatively
new class of monoclonal antibody, is used as an antiinflammatory in the treatment
of autoimmune diseases. For neuropathic pain, gabapentin and pregabalin are the
drugs of choice.
Limitations of Orthodox Treatments
Despite advances in pain medication, many patients suffer chronic (and sometimes
severe) pain over their lifetime. In some cases, this is despite the advent of PCA.
Knowledge and attitude toward pain and pain management continue to be the most
prominent barriers for effectively treating pain (Jablonski & Duke 2012). Controversies surrounding new analgesic drugs also exist. Oxycontin, a drug as potent as
morphine, was heavily marketed to physicians but later found to be highly addictive
(Meier & Petersen 2001).
Chronic Pain Syndrome
In 2011, an average of 31% of Americans reported having a neck or back condition,
26% had a knee or leg condition, and 18% had another condition causing recurring
pain. The Gallup Poll found similar rates each year since tracking began in 2008. In
all, 47% of Americans reported having a least one of the three types of chronic pain
measured in the survey, including 7% who reported all three types (The Gallup Poll
2011). For essential oils that can be useful for chronic pain, please see Table 10-1.
SECTION II | Clinical Use of Aromatherapy
TABLE 10-1 Essential Oils Suitable for Chronic Pain
Common Name
Botanical Name
Black pepper
Clove bud*†
Lavender (spike)
Lavender (true)
Marjoram (sweet)
Ylang ylang
Piper nigrum
Syzygium aromaticum
Boswellia carteri
Zingiber officinale
Juniperus communis
Lavandula latifolia
Lavandula angustifolia
Cymbopogon citrates
Origanum majorana
Commiphora molmol
Mentha piperita
Rosa damascene
Rosmarinus officinalis
Aloysia triphylla
Cananga odorata
Inhaled, topical
Topical, oral in capsules
Inhaled, topical, oral capsules
Inhaled, topical
Inhaled, topical
Topical, oral capsules
Inhaled, topical
Inhaled, topical
bud is safer than clove leaf. Phenols can be harsh on the skin.
to avoid regular use of clove with patients on anticoagulant therapy.
‡Rosemary is a stimulant: best to avoid regular use in hypertension or epilepsy.
As well as chronic pain, there is chronic pain syndrome (CPS). CPS has been
described as a complex dysfunction and is extremely difficult to treat successfully.
Allopathic medicine treats CPS with a mixture of opioid and nonopioid drugs
backed with tricyclic or valium-type drugs that are not antidepressants, although
they are used for that purpose in this instance.
How patients could have rapid access to pain control was investigated in a
recent study from Germany (Erlenwein et al 2012). This study found that standardizing postoperative pain management so nursing stuff could administer pain medication (within well-defined margins) reduced the dependence on the ward doctor
and meant patients received analgesics much more quickly in the hospital setting.
Jablonski and Duke (2012) suggest that effective pain management should
include alternative and complementary therapies. Gatlin and Schulmeister (2007)
suggest that we should stop overlooking simple, noninvasive, nonpharmacologic
measures shown to be effective in pain management.
Aromatherapy for Pain
Touch, relaxation, and pleasure each play an important part in how individuals
perceive the world around them and how they feel about themselves. This includes
the perception of pain (Beck & Beck 1987). Aromatherapy works on the sensory
system and enhances the parasympathetic response, which is closely linked with
endorphins (Weil 1996). Inhaling sweet aromas has been found to increase pain
CHAPTER 10 | Pain and Inflammation
tolerance (Prescott & Wilkie 2007). The intensity and depth of pain is influenced
by external factors such as previous experience, attitude, and culture. Pain can be
“put on hold” by strong emotions such as anger, fear, or elation. Conversely, fear
can make pain feel worse. Pain is a warning system. By deadening it, the warning
system is dulled. A headache pill does not make the cause of the headache go away;
it just allows the person to carry on functioning.
Aromatherapy can be helpful in alleviating chronic pain (Buckle 1999). Essential
oils have pharmacologically active components and some enhance the absorption and
potency of orthodox pain medicines (Buckle 2010). For example, cardamom enhances
absorption of indomethacin, an antiinflammatory drug (Huang et al 1999). Many
components in essential oils are analgesic, so it is hardly surprising that aromatherapy
is now part of many pain management programs in the United States, UK, Australia,
Canada, and elsewhere.
As well as having analgesic properties (De Sousa 2011), the actual application of
diluted essential oils in a massage, or the ‘M’ Technique®, can be very relaxing. The odor
of most essential oils is pleasurable. Thus, aromatherapy enhances the parasympathetic
response, encouraging relaxation at a deep level. Relaxation has been shown to alter
perceptions of pain and allow a patient to “let go,” often for the first time. The analgesic effects of aromatherapy can be traced to several factors, depending on whether the
essential oils are used topically on the area of pain, inhaled to reduce the sensation of
pain, or taken orally.
The two factors that contribute to the benefits associated with inhalation of essential oils for pain are as follows:
(1)A complex mixture of volatile chemicals reaches the “pleasure memory sites”
within the brain. These include the nucleus accumbens and ventral pallidum
in the subcortical region and the orbitofrontal cortex and anterior cingulated
cortex in the cortical region.
(2)Certain analgesic components within the essential oil (that may or may not be
known) affect the neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin, and noradrenaline at
receptor sites in the brain. For example, bergamot essential oil can affect the synaptic plasticity of neurotransmitters (Bagetta et al 2010). However, most essential
oils are thought to merely affect the perception of pain (Gedney et al 2004).
Whatever the mechanism, inhaled essential oils appear to impact the perception
of pain.
Topical Use
The factors associated with topical use of essential oils for pain are as follows:
(1)Certain components within essential oils are warming, for example, 1,8-cineole
in eucalyptus (Liapi et al 2007). Some components are cooling, for example,
menthol in peppermint (Kraemer et al 2005).
(2)Some components (such as esters) have antispasmodic action, for example, linalyl acetate in lavender (Koto et al 2006).
SECTION II | Clinical Use of Aromatherapy
(3)Some components have an antiinflammatory action, such as the sesquiterpene
chamazulene in German chamomile (Ramadan et al 2006).
(4)Certain components have a topical analgesic effect, for example, citronellal in
lemongrass (Quintans-Junior et al 2011). Lavender and its two main components, linalyl acetate and linalool, also showed local anesthetic activity in a study
by Ghelardini et al (1999).
(5)The interaction of touch with sensory fibers in the skin affects the transmission
of referred pain (Schmelz 2011).
(6)There is a positive rubefacient effect of a warm bath or friction on the skin.
Oral Use
Although this may not be within the remit of some health professionals, research shows
that certain components within essential oils have analgesic effect when taken orally.
An example of this is gingerdione from ginger (Lee et al 2012). Whole essential oils can
also have analgesic effects on specific areas when taken orally. For example, peppermint taken in enteric-coated capsules was found to be helpful in relieving the colonic
spasm that follows colonoscopy (Shavakhi et al 2012). Peppermint oil capsules, such
as Colpermin, are available from many health food stores and the internet and can be
useful for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Anecdotal evidence suggests that Lavandula
angustifolia (three drops in 15 mL of warm water) in a gargle and swallow is also good
for relieving a sore throat. For more on the oral use of essential oils, please see Chapter 7.
Two thousand years ago, man used the plants Salix (willow) and Populus (poplar) to alleviate pain (Lewis & Elvin-Lewis 1977). Gattefosse, the grandfather of clinical aromatherapy (1937), wrote “almost all essential oils have analgesic properties.”
Animal Studies
A literature search of the databases listed in the appendix found published research on
essential oils with analgesic effects (on animals) for basil, bergamot, eucalyptus, frankincense, ginger, lavender, lemon, myrrh, patchouli, peppermint, rose, rosemary, and
thyme. This does not mean that other essential oils do not have analgesic effects, just
that they are not published as yet. The methods used on the animals were as follows:
Intraperitoneal (i.p.)
Into the abdominal cavity
Subcutaneous (s.c.)
Under the skin
Oral (p.o.)
Intraplantarly (i.pl.)
Between the paws
Intracerebroventricularly (i.c.v.) Into the brain
Intrathecal (i.t.)
Into the spinal cord
Intragastrically (i.g.)
Into the stomach via nasogastric tube
Here are a few of the studies to give you an idea of what they involved. Brazilian basil (Ocimum selloi) was found to have analgesic properties in mice at 2, 20,
and 200 mg/kg orally (Franca et al 2008). This basil contains up to 55.3% methylchavicol (estragole). In a later study, Ocimum basilicum (the basil more often used
in aromatherapy) demonstrated peripheral and central analgesic effects related to
the inhibition of pain mediators (such as prostaglandins and prostacyclins) as well
CHAPTER 10 | Pain and Inflammation
as interaction with opioid receptors (Vanancio et al 2011). Another species of basil
(Ocimum gratissiumum) had analgesic effects in mice: the active components were
eugenol and myrcene (Paula-Friere et al 2012).
Rosemary had analgesic properties in rats when the rats’ paws were subjected
to acetic acid or hot plates (Takaki et al 2008; Martinez et al 2009). Frankincense
and myrrh were found to be effective analgesic and antiinflammatory agents (both
separately and combined) when used in rats that had paw pain induced by formalin
and carrageenan (Su et al 2012).
Perez-Raya et al (1990) found that Mentha rotundifolia and Mentha longifolia
(both types of peppermint) had analgesic properties in mice and rats. Peana et al
(1999) found that essential oil of clary sage (Salvia sclarea) had antiinflammatory and
analgesic action at a local level. An extract of myrrh (Commiphora molmol) had a
strong local anesthetic effect in a study by Dolara et al (2000). The anesthetic action
blocked the sodium current of excitable mammalian membranes. The local anesthetic
activity on nerve cells was measured by incubating hippocampal brain slices, freshly
dissected with a tissue chopper, from the brain of one of the experimental male rats.
The slices were stimulated with a positive electrical current applied through electrodes.
Lavandula angustifolia had a local anesthetic effect in rabbits (Ghelardini et al
1999). Most animal research tends to inject the essential oil into the animal’s peritoneal cavity, into its brain, or between the animal’s paws. In some studies, the essential
oil is administered via nasogastric tube. Other studies, such as the one by Maruyama
et al (2005) using geranium, explore the topical analgesic effects of essential oils.
The analgesic effects of lemongrass in mice were explored by Viana et al (2000).
They concluded that the essential oil worked at both central and peripheral levels
when given by p.o. and i.p. routes. For animal studies, please see Table 10-2.
Human Studies
One of the earliest studies showing the analgesic effect of essential oils in humans
was conducted by Woolfson and Hewitt (1992). They found a 50% pain reduction
in patients in a critical care unit. Thirty-six patients were randomly allocated into
three groups of 12: group A received massage plus lavender, group B received massage without lavender, and group C was the control group who received no treatment and were left to rest “curtained off” from the remainder of the unit. Treatment
consisted of 20 minutes of foot massage twice a week for 5 weeks. This was an interesting study because some of the patients were artificially ventilated, so the effects
of the essential oil could have come from inhalation or topical absorption. The
largest difference between the groups was in heart rate. Ninety percent of Group A
had a reduction of 11 to 15 beats per minute, whereas only 58% of Group B had a
reduction, which was consistently less. Only 41% of the control group showed any
reduction. The study provided no formal statistics or analysis.
Wilkinson (1995) investigated the effects of 1% Roman chamomile (Chamomelum nobile) in a massage on 51 patients with cancer in a randomized study. The
participants ranged in age from 26 to 84 years. Ninety-four percent of the participants were female, and 6% were male. Forty-one percent had been referred for pain
SECTION II | Clinical Use of Aromatherapy
TABLE 10-2 Essential Oils and Animal Studies
Essential Oil
Franca et al
Vanancio et al
Paula-Friere et al
Sakurada et al
Silva et al
Su et al
Maruyama et al
Khushtar et al
Hajhashemi et al
Barocelli et al
Campelo et al
Viana et al
Su et al
Tsung-Chun et al
Takaki et al
Martinez et al
Lavandin (Grosso)
Patchouli (extract)
Rose otto
+ve = positive result; –ve = negative result.
control. During the study, 45% of the participants were receiving morphine, with
the remainder on weak opioids, nonopioids, or nothing. Seventy-six percent of the
participants had metastases. Mann–Whitney U tests on all independent variables
revealed no significant differences between conditions in the pretest scores for the
Rotterdam Symptom Checklist on physical or psychological symptoms, activities,
and the top 10 symptoms. The data were analyzed using the Statistical Package for
the Social Sciences (Nie et al 1975) and nonparametric tests were employed for all
statistical analyses. State Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI) scores fell by an average of
16 points in the aromatherapy massage group but only 10 points in the plain massage
or standard group (P = 0.005), and pain was reduced statistically (P = 0.003). One
patient is quoted as saying “I know now, almost definitely, that it (aromatherapy) has
helped me in my quest for pain relief. I have told Dr. R at the pain clinic how pain
free I was while having regular (aromatherapy) treatment” (Wilkinson 1995).
Since the last edition of this book, there have been many published studies evaluating the effect of essential oils on human pain, as Table 10-3 indicates. RJ Buckle
students have conducted many more studies on the use of aromatherapy on pain
for their certification. These studies are mainly nonpublished (as yet) and are listed
in Table 10-4. Studies have been on inhaled, topically applied (mainly as massage)
and oral use of essential oils, and nearly all have shown positive results.
CHAPTER 10 | Pain and Inflammation
TABLE 10-3 Essential Oils for Pain Relief in Human Studies
Essential Oil
Year Author
Mixture 1
Mixture 2
Mixture 3
Mixture 4
Tea tree
Gedney et al
Kim et al
Yip & Tse
Kim et al
Sheikhan et al
Hadi & Hanid
Kim et al
Grunebaum et al
Sasannejad et al
Kim et al
Han et al
Hur et al
Ou et al
Davies et al
Type of Pain
Induced pain
Postoperative pain
Neck pain
Postoperative pain
After cesarean
Needle ­insertion
Botox inject
Raudenbush et al GI
Khvorova & Neill GI
Ford et al
Merat et al
Shavakhi et al
Mann et al
Smith D, Jacob- Arthritis
son 2011 et al
Leach & Kumar Arthritis
Yip et al
Cold pressor
Joksimovic et al Hemorrhoids
Pazandeh et al
Stem cell
Ayan et al
Renal colic
Application N
GI = Gastrointestinal; IBS = irritable bowel syndrome; N = number in trial; R = review; +ve = positive
result; –ve = negative/no result.
Mixture 1 = lavender, marjoram, eucalyptus, rosemary, and peppermint blended in proportions of
Mixture 2 = two drops of lavender (Lavandula officinalis), one drop of clary sage (Salvia sclarea), and one
drop of rose (Rosa centifolia) in 5 mL of almond oil.
Mixture 3 = clary sage, marjoram, cinnamon, ginger, and geranium in a ratio of 1:1:0.5:1.5:1.5 diluted
in almond oil to 5%.
Mixture 4 = lavender (Lavandula officinalis), clary sage (Salvia sclarea), and marjoram (Origanum majorana) in a 2:1:1 ratio was diluted in unscented cream at 3% concentration.
SECTION II | Clinical Use of Aromatherapy
TABLE 10-4 Studies Carried out on Pain by RJ Buckle Students
Type of Pain
Essential Oil
Neck pain
Neck pain
Chronic pain
Chronic pain
Recent injury
Sweet marjoram/black
Roman chamomile/­
­marjoram/black pepper
Sweet marjoram/­
Black pepper
Eucalyptus citriadora/
German chamomile/
German chamomile/
Eucalyptus globulus
Black pepper
Black pepper
German chamomile/­
Black pepper/sweet
Black pepper
Eucalyptus globulus/­
CHAPTER 10 | Pain and Inflammation
TABLE 10-4 Studies Carried out on Pain by RJ Buckle Students—cont’d
Type of Pain
Essential Oil
Muscle pain
Muscle pain
Muscle pain
Black pepper/marjoram/
German chamomile
Black pepper
Muscle pain
Muscle ache
after sport
Sweet marjoram
Roman chamomile
Sweet marjoram
Sweet marjoram
Clary sage
Clary sage
Clary sage
Lavender/clary sage/­
Clary sage/geranium
Clary sage/frankincense
Lavender, given via oxygen mask in a postanesthesia care unit, reduced opioid
requirements of morbidly obese patients undergoing laparoscopic adjustable gastric banding in a Korean study (Kim et al 2007). Lavender, given in a face mask, was
also effective in another randomized, controlled study by Kim et al (2011). In this
study, healthy volunteers rated stress and pain during needle insertion. The results
showed that the pain intensity of needle insertion was significantly decreased after
aromatherapy compared with the control (P < 0.001).
However, inhaled lavender was not effective in two other studies on pain.
Inhaled lavender did not reduce pain during elective cosmetic facial injections of
SECTION II | Clinical Use of Aromatherapy
Botox (12 U) (Grunebaum et al 2011). Inhaled lavender did not reduce the pain
scores of postsurgical patients (underdoing a breast biopsy) or the amount of narcotics required (Kim et al 2006), but it did produce a higher satisfaction with pain
control. Similarly, inhaled oils of mandarin and sandalwood did not reduce acute
postoperative pain (Trull 2007).
Ayan et al (2012) explored the use of inhaled rose oil on a group of 80 patients
with renal colic. Half of the group received conventional analgesic (diclofenac
sodium, 75 mg intramuscularly, i.m.) plus a placebo smell of saline. The other
group received the same i.m. injection plus inhaled rose essential oil. Pain was
measured using a visual analogue scale (VAS) where the worst pain was given a
score of 10 and no pain was 0. Inhaling the rose impacted the perception of pain
after 10 and 30 minutes. At 30 minutes, the difference in the two groups was 3.75
± 2.08 for the diclofenac plus placebo group, versus 1.08 ± 1.07 for the diclofenac
plus rose group.
Perhaps inhaled aroma has more to do with the perception of pain, rather than
the actual pain itself. Gedney et al (2004) explored the effect of inhaled lavender
and rosemary on acute pain. In this study, volunteers experiencing contact heat,
pressure, and ischemic pain rated inhaled lavender and rosemary. They found the
pain “unpleasantness” was reduced with lavender, and less so with rosemary. This
idea that inhaled aroma could affect perception of pain was explored by Martin
(2006) who used a pleasant aroma (lemon) versus an unpleasant aroma (machine
oil) on a group of 60 healthy volunteers who had induced pain (cold pressor test).
Pain was measured at 5, 10, and 15 minutes. In this study, both lemon and machine
oil groups reported significantly greater pain than those in the control group at
5 minutes. However, at 15 minutes, individuals exposed to the unpleasant odor
experienced greater pain than the other group.
Lavender in a bath reduced perineal discomfort following episiotomy in an Iranian
study (Sheikhan et al 2012). However, a similar study (also from Iran) found that
“essence of chamomile” in a bath following episiotomy did not reduce perineal
discomfort (Pazandeh et al 2008).
Massage using essential oils is a popular way to reduce the perception of chronic
pain. These studies are often completed in hospices (Soden et al 2004; Chang 2008).
Some aromatherapy massage studies have targeted dysmenorrhea (Han et al 2006;
Ou et al 2012) or muscular pain (Kraft & Uehleke 2005). Other studies have explored
the effect of using different percentages of essential oils topically. For example, a
study by Pittler & Ernst (2003) used 100%, 50%, and 10% geranium essential oil
versus a placebo of mineral oil or capsaicin 0.025% on postherpetic neuralgia. Pain
reduction was dose dependent (P ≤ 5.003). A placebo-controlled study of a mixture
of topically applied essential oils on 153 patients with fibromyalgia (Ko et al 2007)
found improvement in the following measurement outcomes: VAS night pain
rating (P = 0.018), Jamar grip strength (P < 0.001), number of trigeminal evoked
potentials (TePs; P < 0.001), average TeP pain threshold (P < 0.001), and Lanier
CHAPTER 10 | Pain and Inflammation
scale (P = 0.001). The mixture contained camphor, eucalyptus, peppermint, rosemary, lemon, and orange in aloe vera.
Gobel et al (1991) studied the effect of peppermint applied topically for headaches. Pain was induced in healthy humans using pressure, thermal, and ischemic stimuli. The intensity of the pain, neurophysiology, performance-related
activity, and mood states were monitored. Peppermint diluted in ethanol and
applied topically produced a significant analgesic effect. Krall and Krause (1993)
conducted an open, randomized study of 100 patients to evaluate the effects of
a topically applied gel containing peppermint oil (30%) on periarticular pain.
Effects of the peppermint gel were measured in acute (n = 49) and subacute
(n = 51) conditions compared to the standard treatment of 10% hydroxyethyl
salicylate gel. Different aspects of pain (intensity on pressure and spontaneous
and movement-induced pain) were examined using a VAS (ranging from 0 = no
symptom to 100 = severe symptom) for a period of 20 days. No statistical details
were given. In 78% of cases both the physician and the patient considered the
results with the mint therapy to be highly effective as opposed to 50% and 34%,
respectively, with the standard gel. There were 10 instances of side effects from
the hydroxyethyl salicylate gel (three of erythema and seven of itching) and only
one (smell of peppermint in the nose) from the mint oil. At the end of the study,
19% of the mint oil patients were still suffering from pain compared to 36% of
the aspirin gel group. The results of this comparative study were dependent on
the severity of the symptoms.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale) can have an analgesic and deeply warming action,
but the topical analgesic gingerol (a phenol) only occurs in the CO2 extract, not in
the essential oil (Wren 1988). Any phenol-rich essential oil needs to be used with
care in topical applications. Rose (1992) suggests that benzoin, camphor, clove,
coriander, ginger, hops, lemongrass, marjoram, black pepper, pine, savory, and
ylang ylang have analgesic properties. Other aromatherapy educators suggest that
additional essential oils—such as basil, bay laurel, cajuput, cinnamon leaf, eucalyptus, geranium, juniper berry, nutmeg, sweet fennel, sweet marjoram, peppermint,
rosemary CT 1,8-cineole, camphor, spearmint, tarragon, thyme CT thymol, wintergreen, and yarrow—have analgesic p
­ roperties (e.g., Rhind 2012).
Peppermint was found to reduce gastric pain in several studies (Merat et al 2010;
Shavakhi et al 2012). Merat’s study was a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study on 90 outpatients with IBS. Participants took one capsule of entericcoated, delayed-release peppermint oil (Colpermin) or placebo three times a day
for 8 weeks. At the end of the 8 weeks, 14 participants were free from abdominal
pain in the Colpermin group compared to only six in the control group (P < 0.001).
The severity of abdominal pain was also reduced significantly in the Colpermin
group compared to controls. Shavakhi et al (2012) explored the effect of peppermint given orally before colonoscopy. Sixty-five adult patients undergoing colonoscopy were randomized to receive either peppermint oil (Colpermin; n = 33)
SECTION II | Clinical Use of Aromatherapy
or placebo capsules (n = 32) as premedication, 4 hours before colonoscopy. Oral
peppermint oil reduced the pain in patients during and following colonoscopy.
There have been other studies on the oral use of aromatic herbs, such as ginger
and fennel, but they have tended to be on the dried herb rather than the essential oil. For example, Modaress and Asadipour (2006) explored the effect of orally
ingested fennel on dysmenorrhea and Rahnama et al (2012) explored the effect of
orally ingested ginger, also for dysmenorrhea. Perhaps more studies on the oral use
of essential oils will follow.
Research on Isolated Analgesic Components of
Essential Oils
Whole essential oils are not patentable. However, isolated components from essential
oils can be synthesized and added together to form a new patentable product. So, it is
hardly surprising there is a lot of research on the isolated components of essential oils.
Much of it is conducted by the pharmaceutical industry. Many essential oils contain
components that have been shown to have analgesic (antinociceptive) effects in rats
and mice (Santos et al 2005). Of these, perhaps the most well-known component is
(-)linalool, found in large amounts in essential oils like lavender and clary sage. This
linalool acts on several receptors, namely opioids, adenosine A1 and A2, and cholinergic M2, and it produces changes in potassium (K+) channels (Peana et al 2006).
Lorenzetti et al (1991) found that myrcene had a direct analgesic effect on rats.
Myrcene is a terpene found in up to 20% in some distillations of West Indian lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus)—usually those that have aged (Clarke 2012). The
analgesic effect lasted 3 hours and was similar to that of peripheral-acting opioids,
but did not affect the CNS, which was remarkable because the essential oil was
administered orally. The analgesic effects did not lead to tolerance within a period
of 5 days (which would have occurred with a narcotic). This is interesting because
Seth et al (1976) had previously investigated the effect of lemongrass on pain and
found it enhanced the effect of morphine in rats. However, Seth also investigated
Cymbopogon nardus (East Indian lemongrass) and found it to be less effective as
an analgesic. Cymbopogon nardus contains considerably less myrcene than Cymbopogon citratus (Boelens 1994). Lorenzetti et al (1991) conclude their paper with the
suggestion that terpenes should be investigated with the “possibility of developing a
new class of analgesic with myrcene as the prototype.” Myrcene is found (although
in small amounts) in several essential oils such as rosemary, frankincense, juniper,
rose, ginger, and verbena (Sheppard-Hangar 1995), all of which have traditional
analgesic qualities. Surprisingly, there is little recent published research on myrcene. However, a paper by Gbenou et al (2012) compared Eucalyptus citriadora and
Cymbopogon citratus in formol-induced edema and acetic acid-induced abdominal
cramps in Wistar rats. In this study, geranial (an aldehyde that makes up to 93% of
Eucalyptus citriadora) appeared to have more analgesic effect than the myrcene in
Cymbopogon citratus.
Nepetalactone, a lactone found in Nepeta caesarea (catnip), was found to have
analgesic properties in a controlled, comparative study with morphine on mice and
CHAPTER 10 | Pain and Inflammation
was hailed the “new opioid” (Aydin et al 1998). The essential oil was given by i.p.
injection. The lactone appeared to affect mechanical, not thermal, algesic receptors,
which “suggests specificity for specific opioid receptor subtypes excluding mu-opioid receptors.” Because the lactone is the main component of Nepeta caesarea (92%
to 95%), it was thought to have specific, opioid-receptor-subtype agonistic activity.
The essential oil also had marked sedative effects. Aydin et al (1996) had previously
studied Origanum onites and found that it also had analgesic activity. Since then,
nepatalactone does not appear to have received further interest.
de Sousa’s excellent review (2011) summarizes the results of studies on 43 components of essential oils found to have analgesic properties: 62.8% were monoterpenes, 18.6% were sesquiterpenes, and 18.6% were other constituents. Her paper
shows the potential of essential oils and/or their components to work either on their
own or to enhance analgesic drugs. Table 10-5 shows a small sample of studies from
her review, exploring specific analgesic components found within essential oils.
I have listed the most common essential oil within which the component is found.
For a more comprehensive overview, please read de Sousa’s review.
Several over-the-counter (OTC) medicines include analgesic components
found in essential oils, for example, Rowatinex®, which is used to relieve urinary
pain and spasm associated with kidney stones (Bak et al 2007). Rowatinex contains
pinene (α + β) 31 mg, camphene 15 mg, cineole B.P.C. 1973 (British Pharmaceutical Codex) 3 mg, fenchone 4 mg, borneol 10 mg, anethol U.S.P. 4 mg (United States
TABLE 10-5 Analgesic Components Within Essential Oils
Functional Group
Essential Oil
Gonçalves et al
Gertsch et al
Quintans et al
Melo et al
Liapi et al
Yano et al
Him et al
Gbenou et al
Black pepper
Tea tree
Amaral et al
Kraemer et al
Paul-Friere et al
Martinez et al
Him et al
Mikaili et al
SECTION II | Clinical Use of Aromatherapy
Pharmacopeia), and olive oil 33 mg. Radian-B linament, Radian massage cream,
Deep Heat linament, Counterpain Balm, Tiger Balm, and Neotica Balm linament
all contain menthol and methyl salicylate. Counterpain, Tiger Balm, and Neotica
also contain eugenol (Harris 2004).
Antispasmodic Essential Oils for Pain
Spasm may be the cause or the result of pain (Fahn 2007). Spasm and cramp are
involuntary contractions, usually of the muscles, and are an attempt by the body to
protect itself. Spasms can affect both skeletal and smooth muscle. Several essential
oils have specific antispasmodic effects that can be useful when applied topically
or taken internally. Anecdotally, the greater the number of different esters in an
essential oil, the greater the antispasmodic effect (although there is no research to
substantiate this yet). Roman chamomile has more esters than any other essential
oil and has a history of use as an analgesic (Wren 1988). Lis-Balchin (1997) found
that clary sage, dill, fennel, frankincense, lavender, Roman chamomile, and sage
reduced the “twitch response to nerve stimulation, in isolated rat tissue.”
Bowel spasm can be a cause of intense intestinal pain. One of the earliest
human studies on intestinal pain was the use of enteric-coated peppermint oil
capsules for IBS (Kline et al 2001). Fifty children took part in the controlled, multicentered study. The gelatin capsules did not release the oil until they were in the
small intestine (an environment of pH 6.8 or higher). Between one capsule (187
mg) and two capsules were given three times a day. During the study, eight children withdrew for various reasons. However, 76% of the peppermint group had
a significant reduction in symptoms compared to the placebo group (43%). No
side effects were reported and there was no change in stool consistency. A more
recent randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study (Merat et al 2010)
found that enteric-coated, delayed-release peppermint oil (Colpermin) taken
three times daily for 8 weeks significantly reduced the severity of abdominal pain
(P < 0.001).
Sometimes pain is caused by inflammation. Inflammation is a nonspecific local
defense mechanism initiated by tissue injury (Brooker 2008). Derived from the
Latin infiammare, meaning “to burn,” the function of inflammation is to restore the
body to normal functioning as quickly as possible. The symptoms of inflammation
are redness, swelling, heat, and pain—sometimes called rubor, tumor, calor, and
dolor (Mills 1991)—with concomitant loss of function (Craig & Stitzel 1994). During the inflammatory process, chemical mediators are released such as histamine,
kinin, interleukins, and prostaglandins. Histamine is an amine that causes capillary
dilation and increased vessel permeability. Kinin is a protein that causes vasodilation and smooth muscle contraction. Prostaglandins (PGE1, PGE2, and PGE3) are
a group of lipids that modulate the action of several hormones that cause inflammation and blood clotting (Brooker 2008).
CHAPTER 10 | Pain and Inflammation
Antiinflammatory Essential Oils
Some essential oils have strong antiinflammatory effects on the dermis and epidermis (Bowles 2000). There has been considerable research on the antiinflammatory
components of essential oils and some on the whole essential oil.
Antiinflammatory Components
1,8-Cineole was found to reduce colon inflammation in rats when it significantly
reduced myeloperoxidase activity and caused repletion of glutathione (Santos
2004). Eugenol reduced the tongue edema that was induced in mice (Dip et al 2004).
Chainy et al (2000) explored the mechanism that gives anethole (found in large
amounts in anise, camphor, and fennel) its antiinflammatory effect. His research
found that anethole acts on IκBα kinase. It also blocked nuclear factor (NF)-κB
activation and suppressed tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-induced activation of the
transcription factor AP-l, c-jun N-terminal kinase (JNK), and mitogen-activated
protein kinase (MAPK). Finally, anethole cancelled TNF-induced apoptosis (as
measured by both caspase activation and cell viability). In other words, anethole
has a very good antiinflammatory effect.
COX-2 is an enzyme that plays a key role in inflammation, and COX-2 inhibitors (e.g., Celebrex) are a group of drugs that are commonly used for arthritis.
Carvacrol suppressed lipopolysaccharide-induced COX-2 mRNA and protein
expression in human macrophage-like U937 cells, suggesting that carvacrol regulates COX-2 expression through its agonistic effect on peroxisome proliferatoractivated receptor-gamma (PPARγ; Hotta et al 2010). Juhás et al (2008) showed
that borneol significantly suppressed proinflammatory cytokine mRNA expression in mice. There are other antiinflammatory components, but these are some
of the main ones.
Antiinflammatory Essential Oils
Rossi et al (1988) investigated Roman chamomile (Anthemis nobilis) in a comparative, controlled study on rats with carrageenan-induced edema. The control was
indomethacin. Three essential oils of chamomile were used. White-headed, doubleflowered chamomile flowers showed a greater antiinflammatory action than the
yellow-flowered variety. Nevertheless, all three essential oils of Roman chamomile
produced significant antiinflammatory effects. In this study the chamomile was
given subcutaneously. Jakovlev et al (1979) demonstrated the antiinflammatory
effect of German chamomile and suggested that the antiphlogistic effects could
be attributed to bisabolol and bisabolol oxides. Tubaro et al (1984) found when
German chamomile (Matricaria recutita) was applied topically to mouse ears (with
hydrocortisone as the control) the chamomile showed an antiinflammatory action,
although the effect was only half as strong as that of the steroid. There do not appear
to be any more recent studies on either Roman or German chamomile for antiinflammatory conditions.
Nutmeg (Myristica fragrans) may have been the inspiration for Nostradamus’
prophecies, but it also has antiinflammatory activities. Benet et al (1988) attributed
SECTION II | Clinical Use of Aromatherapy
the antiinflammatory action of nutmeg to eugenol. They found the greatest effect
was observed after 4 hours and was comparable to the effects of phenylbutazone
and indomethacin. However, nutmeg did not ameliorate painful diabetic neuropathy (PDN) in a study by Motilal and Maharaj (2013) carried out in Trinidad. In this
randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, 74 patients were randomly
allocated to receive topical nutmeg extracts (NEMM; mace oil [2%], nutmeg oil
[14%], methyl salicylate [6%], menthol [6%], and coconut oil) or placebo (MM;
methyl salicylate [6%], menthol [6%], coconut oil, and alcohol). Although there
were significant reductions in pain, there were no statistically significant differences
between both groups after 4 weeks.
Wagner et al (1986) screened various essential oils traditionally used for their
antiinflammatory action. They found that eugenol, eugenyl acetate, thymol, capsaicin, curcumin, and carvacrol were present in most of the essential oils screened,
and the antiphlogistic effects were closely linked to the vascular reaction of early
inflammation. In herbal medicine, this is called the counterirritant effect. Clove
and cinnamon had the strongest effect, Dwarf pine (Pinus mugo var. pumilo) and
eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus) had a mild effect, and Chamomelum nobile had a
weak antiinflammatory effect.
Where there is topical inflammation, essential oils should be applied topically.
Essential oils are absorbed into and through the skin (Hongratanaworakit & Buchbauer, 2007; Buckle 2010). This was once disputed, but components in essential
oils are currently used to enhance drug delivery both topical and oral (Aggarwal &
Dhawan 2012). For example, cardamom enhances absorption of indomethacin, an
antiinflammatory drug (Huang et al 1999).
Sometimes, in cases of arthritic pain, heat can help. If this is the case, essential
oils that have rubefacient effects, such as Piper nigrum (black pepper), Syzygium
aromaticum (clove), or Zingiber officinale (ginger), can be useful. These can be
added to an essential oil high in a component with analgesic and/or antiinflammatory action. Sometimes cooling will help relieve the pain. In this case, Mentha piperita (peppermint) can be added to the mix. Kraemer et al (2005) found
that adding menthol to a cetylated fatty acid opical cream improved functional
performance in people with arthritis. These topically applied creams became
popular in early 2000 when researchers concluded that they could be an alternative to nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs for the treatment of osteoarthritis
(Hesslink et al 2002).
It is important to allow patients to smell the mixture before it is applied; they
will have to live with it, after all! Be gentle and slow. Allowing someone to touch
a painful area takes courage, and that courage needs to be rewarded with respect.
All the essential oils mentioned are safe to use for the relief of pain. Although a
5% solution is usually adequate, much higher concentrations can be used (20% to
40%). In some circumstances, and depending on the essential oils selected, 100%
solutions can be used. Lavender and tea tree are good examples of safe oils that can
be used at full strength. Do not use phenol-rich essential oils undiluted on the skin.
Please see the section on safety and contraindications.
CHAPTER 10 | Pain and Inflammation
Woelk and Schläfke (2010) demonstrated in their 6-week study that the oral use
of silexan (lavender oil in a capsule) was as effective as lorazepam (and as safe) in
adults with anxiety. With the arrival of OTC oral capsules containing essential oils
for anxiety, it will not be long before an essential oil/s or essential oil component/s
are marketed in capsule form for analgesia. Aromatherapy has moved a long way
in the last 10 years.
There is no suggestion that essential oils should replace conventional analgesia.
However, topical, inhaled, and (in some instances) oral applications of essential
oils do have analgesic effects, and some appear to enhance orthodox analgesia. The
positive effect of essential oils could be through the placebo response, the effect of
touch and smell on the parasympathetic nervous system, or because components
in essential oils have analgesic, antiinflammatory, and/or antispasmodic activity.
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Stress and Well-Being
“It’s not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to stress.”
Hans Seyle
TABLE 11-1 | Selection of Published Studies on Aromatherapy and Anxiety, 228
TABLE 11-2 | RJBA Student Studies on Nurse Stress, 231
TABLE 11-3 | Published Studies on Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Aroma, 234
Most people experience some stress during their life. It is how we cope with stress
that determines if it will affect our health. When we talk about stress, we often
assume mental or emotional stress. But physical stress also exists. Running a marathon, changing shift work, intense manual labor, prolonged heat or cold, chronic
pain, malnutrition, and prolonged lack of a vital mineral or vitamin are all examples of physical stressors. Stress fractures can be caused by overuse—when muscles become fatigued and are unable to absorb added shock (Brooker 2008). This
description helps clarify emotional and mental stress. Simply put, if we continue to
overdo it, we will reach a point when we cannot cope with or adapt to the stress,
and our body and mind begin to breakdown. Stress-related disorders have a great
impact on healthcare systems (Kormos & Gaszner 2013).
Definition of Stress
Hans Selye, an Austrian–Canadian endocrinologist who worked at McGill University, Canada, conceived the idea of stress in 1935. He was carrying out research on
rats and found that rats injected with various hormonal extracts developed enlarged
adrenal glands, shrunken lymphatic glands, and bleeding gastrointestinal ulcers.
He named this phenomenon “the stress syndrome” (Anthony & Thibodeau 1983).
Rahe (1975), a psychiatrist at the University of Washington School of Medicine,
found that the more stress a person experienced, the more likely he or she was to fall
SECTION II | Clinical Use of Aromatherapy
ill. He interviewed more than 5000 people and devised what was to become a classic, systematized method for correlating the events in people’s lives with their illnesses (Pelletier 1992). Until that time it had been assumed that only adverse stress
would have a significant effect. However, the survey showed that any change in the
normal pattern of life, even good stress, produced symptoms. Stress can be divided
into that which is necessary for survival (acute) and that which will eventually lead
to breakdown (chronic). Acute stress is processed by the sympathetic adrenal–medullary (SAM) system. Chronic stress is processed via the hypothalamic–pituitary
adrenocortical (HPA) axis (Scott et al 2012).
The alarm response (acute stress) can be life-saving. Physiologic changes (produced by receptors in the brain) increase heartbeat and respiration. Unnecessary
metabolism is curbed, while blood and oxygen are swiftly redirected to the vital
centers of the body (brain and heart). When the danger is over, the body quickly
returns to its original state. Clammy hands and feet become warm and dry again.
Respiration and pulse slowly return to normal and digestion recommences. However, if stress continues (chronic stress), the person will not be able to overcome
stress responses, and will eventually become exhausted through loss of energy
(Yoshiyama 2014). This can lead to physical, mental, and emotional problems, and
ultimately breakdown.
A major conference held in Arizona in the 1980s brought together leading psychologists, immunologists, and physicians to discuss stress and try to define it.
After heated debate, it was agreed there was no absolute definition of stress but that
“things” outside people caused stress. These “things” were labeled stressors. People
react and adapt to stressors differently. Some people are able to cope; others cannot.
Stressors have measurable psychological and physiologic effects and psychological
stress can lower immunity. Perhaps the most common symptom that stands for
anxiety or stress is a dry mouth. In China, individuals suspected of lying were forced
to chew rice powder and then spit it out (Yount 2007, p 88) because it was believed
the stress of lying would render a person incapable of salivation. In fact, salivary cortisol is a biomarker for stress (Ng et al 2004). The brain has a remarkable ability to
change our body’s normal functions in response to stressful experiences (McEwen
et al 2012). The mind–body connection is very strong (Littrell 2008).
Stressors can be divided into four categories: physical, physiologic, psychological, and sociocultural (Brooker 2008). Our responses to stress are governed by the
hypothalamus, which is part of the limbic system. Odor has a direct pathway to the
limbic system, in particular to the amygdala, so it makes sense that aromatherapy
can reduce stress. Toda and Morimoto (2008) found that lavender reduced stress
using saliva tests.
Chronic Stress
In chronic stress, the “arousal state” of a person is never completely switched
off and cortisol levels remain above average. This shows up in the saliva
CHAPTER 11 | Stress and Well-Being
(Van Holland et al 2012), hair (Wosu et al 2013), urine, and blood (Sauvé 2007).
Over time, small but damaging physiologic changes occur. Increase in blood sugar
induced by chronic stress has been linked to type 2 diabetes (Lukaschek 2013).
Chronic stress also affects hormonal balance (Scott et al 2012), digestion (Blanchard
2008), and immune function (Bellingrath et al 2010). Chronic stress also changes
cognitive ability: reducing flexibility to rigid habit action (Ohira 2011).
Chronic stress accounts for 80% of all healthcare problems in the United States
(Lee 2010). This situation is similar in many other countries such as the UK (Chandola et al 2006), Germany (Backé et al 2012), and Finland (Heikkilä et al 2013).
Despite this, the workforce is still encouraged to push itself to the limit and being
“stressed” or a “workaholic” is often the acceptable face of modern life. However, if
stress remains relentless, breakdown is inevitable.
Measurable Physical Responses to Chronic Stress
Stress increases:
(1)Adrenaline/noradrenaline in the blood and urine;
(2)Rate and force of the heartbeat;
(3)Blood adrenocorticoids;
(4)Lactate in the blood;
(5)Urinary adrenocorticoids;
(6)Systolic blood pressure;
(7)Dilation of the pupils.
Stress decreases the number of white blood cells (eosinophils and lymphocytes).
An increase in eosinophils and lymphocytes leads to immunosuppression and
decreased resistance to infection. An increase in aldosterone, thyroxine, and glucagon increases the level of blood glucocorticoids. An increase in cortisol levels affects
carbohydrate, lipid, and protein metabolism. This can lead to muscle wasting, thinning of the skin, and a reduced immune response (Garg et al 2001). It also raises
blood cholesterol levels and reduces vitamin D and calcium absorption, resulting
in osteoporosis.
For 50 common symptoms of stress, please see the American Institute of Stress
(AIS; 2013).
Stress and Patients
Arguably, one of the most stressful situations in anyone’s life is to be institutionalized. To many people a hospital can seem like a prison where patients lose their
sense of control, their identity, and feel helpless and anonymous. This feeling of
anonymity is compounded by Western medicine, which treats the medical condition rather than the patient. Patients may have chronic stress (from being ill) or
acute stress (from being in the hospital). The more seriously ill the patient, the more
severe the loss of control and the resulting stress. Compounding this sense of loss is
the feeling of invasion: of privacy, personal space, and the body itself. A patient in
a hospital could experience all four stressors (physical, physiologic, psychological,
and sociocultural).
SECTION II | Clinical Use of Aromatherapy
A patient’s stress levels will directly impact the rate of his or her recovery (Gouin
& Kiecolt-Glazer 2011; Marshall 2011). Stress can also affect patient survival.
A Swiss study of 504 patients (Nickel et al 2013) found that stress biomarker levels
were significantly greater in nonsurvivors than survivors (P < 0.0001).
Although anxiety is a symptom of stress, it is often used as a synonym for stress.
Frazier et al (2002) found that reliance on the top recognized stress indicators—
patients’ verbalization of anxiety, agitation, increased blood pressure, increased
heart rate, and restlessness—produced an inaccurate and incomplete stress evaluation. The GAD-7 scale (generalized anxiety disorder) is a self-assessment that
contains seven questions relevant to patient stress (Spitzer et al 2006). The Patient
Health Questionnaires PHQ-9 and PHQ-15 have 9 and 15 questions, respectively,
that measure and monitor depression, anxiety, and somatization (where a patient
experiences psychological distress in the form of physical symptoms). Chronic
stress often accompanies chronic illness and is associated with depression, reduced
mental acuity, and increased sensitivity to pain (Bergmann et al 2013).
Because patient stress has such serious consequences, procedures are needed to
reduce it whenever possible. Acute patient stress can occur immediately before an
invasive procedure, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or cardiac catheterization, or following surgery. Chronic stress can occur in hospitalized patients who
have no control over their own environment or uncertain prospects for their lives.
Aromatherapy for Patient Stress
Aromatherapy is a simple, safe, cost-effective method that can reduce both acute and
chronic stress. Inhaling a relaxing essential oil before a procedure can help a patient with
acute stress. Examples of this are the aromasticks used in a British hospital for cancer
patients prior to radiotherapy (Stringer & Donald 2011), the ambient odor used both
in India (Bhargava et al 2009) and in Austria (Lehrner et al 2005) before dental surgery,
and the inhalation given to U.S. patients prior to colonoscopy (Muzzarelli et al 2006).
The chronic stress of lengthy treatments, such as renal hemodialysis, can be soothed
with aromatherapy massage (Heath & Lewis 2008). In this study, as well as reducing
stress in 21 patients, aromatherapy reduced blood pooling and outbreaks of pustules
in one patient with chronic renal asteatotic eczema. The mixture used on the legs was
Helichrysum italicum, Juniperus communis, and Lavandula angustifolia.
Familiar smells associated with happy memories can help reestablish feelings
of happiness. To be happy is to be unstressed. Certain essential oils have their own
relaxing properties. Essential oils such as lavender, lavandin, mandarin, rose, bergamot, and frankincense have all shown their potential to reduce stress (Field et al
2005; Chang 2008; Thomas 2011; Holm & Fitzmaurice 2008; Bhargava et al 2009;
Conrad & Adams 2012).
Each hospital department carries its own particular brand of stress and fear. One
of the most common, but least life-threatening, stresses in oncology is a woman’s fear
of losing her hair. The simple act of a gentle head massage with a diluted essential oil
such as lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) can do a tremendous amount to “touch the
spot” and help reassure the patient that their hair will grow back. In a randomized,
CHAPTER 11 | Stress and Well-Being
controlled study, hair loss as a result of alopecia responded well to topically applied
essential oils (Hay et al 1998). It is a shame this study has not been repeated.
Essential oil of lavandin (Lavandula × hybrida) reduced the stress of patients
waiting for an operation (Braden et al 2009). One hundred and fifty adult patients
were randomly allocated to either control (standard care), experimental (standard
care plus essential oil lavandin), or sham (standard care plus jojoba oil) groups.
One drop of lavender essential oil was applied to a cotton ball. The patient was
asked to sniff the cotton ball prior to the nurse taping the cotton ball to the patient’s
hospital gown, near the chest area. Visual analog scale (VAS) scores were used to
assess anxiety. Muzzarelli et al (2006) used lavender in their study of 118 patients
awaiting either colonoscopy or esophagogastroduodenoscopy. The “state” part of
the State Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI) was used to measure patients’ anxiety
levels before and after breathing in lavender. Although the patients said the smell
of lavender was pleasant, it did not reduce their anxiety. In both these studies on
preoperative anxiety, the gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS) charts
were not given. This makes it impossible to know the chemical profile of the lavender that was used. For a selection of published studies on aromatherapy and stress,
please see Table 11-1.
This is really important to know! I remember my own randomized, controlled
study about 20 years ago (Buckle 1993), when I compared lavandin (Lavandula
x intermedia) with lavender (Lavandula angustifolia). No one was more surprised
than me when the results found that lavandin was more effective at reducing postcardiotomy stress in an intensive care unit (ICU) than lavender! However, chemical
analysis showed that the lavandin used was chemotype (CT) super. This has almost
twice as many esters (calming and soothing) as the Lavandula angustifolia used.
Therefore, it really is vital to know the chemistry, particularly for lavender because
there are so many varieties, and some lavenders such as latifolia can be stimulating.
Please see the chemistry section for more information.
Lehrner et al (2000) explored the effect of two essential oils: sweet orange (Citrus sinensis) or lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) on patients waiting for a dental
procedure. The study had four groups: (1) sweet orange; (2) lavender; (3) music;
and (4) no music. Statistical analyses revealed that compared to the control condition both ambient odors of orange and lavender reduced anxiety and improved
mood in patients waiting for dental treatment. Tukey–Kramer multiple comparisons showed a statistical difference between the control group and the orange group
(P = 0.049) and between the control group and the lavender group (P = 0.039).
There was no statistically significant difference between the control group and the
music group (P = 0.371).
Kritsidima et al (2010) explored the effect of diffused lavender in a cluster randomized-controlled trial of 340 patients awaiting dental surgery. Analyses of variance (ANOVAs) showed that although both groups had similar levels of generalized
dental anxiety, the lavender group reported significantly lower current anxiety
(P < 0.001) than the control group. Doshi (2012), an RJBA student, explored the
effect of aromatherapy (bergamot and frankincense) on 24 women who were about
SECTION II | Clinical Use of Aromatherapy
TABLE 11-1 Selection of Published Studies on Aromatherapy and Anxiety
Number of
Citrus sinensis
Lavandula x
var amara
Sweet orange
Hand ‘M’
Citrus sinensis
and RCT)
Essential Oils
Bhargava et al
Braden et al
Conrad &
Holm &
Kasper et al
Kritsidima et al
Lee et al
Lehrner et al
McCaffrey et al
Muzzarelli et al
Sweet orange
RCT = Randomized, controlled trial.
to undergo breast needle biopsy at a hospital in New Jersey, United States. The
women were randomly allocated to one of four groups: (1) inhaling essential oils
(on a patch on the hospital gown); (2) receiving the hand ‘M’ Technique®; (3)
receiving the hand ‘M’ Technique plus aromatherapy; and (4) the control group.
The group who received both the hand ‘M’ Technique plus aromatherapy had the
greatest reduction in stress. The intervention was only given for 10 minutes.
CHAPTER 11 | Stress and Well-Being
Graham et al (2003) found that essential oils of lavender, bergamot, and cedarwood reduced the stress of patients during radiotherapy. Lavender and Japanese
cedarwood (Hiba oil, botanical name Thujopsis dolabrata) both reduced anxiety in
14 female patients who were receiving regular hemodialysis (Itai et al 2000). The
outcome measure was the Hamilton rating scale for anxiety (HAMA). Markish, an
RJBA student and dialysis nurse, conducted a study (2011) on 16 patients undergoing hemodialysis 3 times a week for 4 hours in a busy teaching hospital in Texas.
She used a combination of angelica root (Angelica archangelica), bergamot (Citrus bergamia), and lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) on a cotton ball placed in the
patient pillowcase close to the nose. The outcome measure was the VAS. Patients
were receiving pro re nata (prn) morphine, valium, and Benadryl. The essential oil
mix showed a positive difference—reduction in anxiety in the patients and reduction in prn medicines needed.
Stress and Hospital Staff
Stress in hospitals is not confined to patients. Nursing staff are under tremendous
stress; their numbers have been cut even though their workload has remained just
as heavy, and morale is very low. Nursing stress is a global issue (Gandi et al 2011;
Toh et al 2012; Chacón 2013; Wang et al 2013). A recent UK survey of 1865 healthworkers found nurses were more stressed than combat troops (Calkin 2013) with
nurses frequently having a stress score of 43.35 on the internationally recognized
Impact of Event Scale (a score above 44 is categorized as severe and may reduce
the individual’s ability to function). Physicians are also feeling stressed, even in
countries where the health system is perceived to be less stressful. A German study
(Bauer & Groneberg 2013) found a high prevalence (55.5 %) of distress among physicians in hospitals and even more with female doctors (59.7%). A Norwegian study
found high levels of stress and deteriorating mental health among medical students
(Gramstad et al 2013). A French study found a high proportion of burnout among
doctors and nurses working in the ICU and anesthesia (Mon et al 2013). Health
professionals find it hard to look after themselves.
Aromatherapy for Hospital Staff
Health professionals experience many emotional and disturbing scenes. Often there
is no way of ameliorating emotions until the next break and frequently there are
no breaks. The pressure can be eased if aromatherapy is used. Mandarin (Citrus
reticulata), lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), or chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) inhaled in an aromasticks can have a calming effect very quickly. Peppermint
(Mentha piperita), black pepper (Piper nigrum), or rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) can revive and stimulate, making night shifts more tolerable. Nurses, physicians, physical therapists, and others represent a large reservoir of professionals
who touch other people throughout life—from pediatrics to the care of the elderly.
This is procedural touch: necessary for the medical or nursing intervention and not
intended to relax or calm the patient. However, a 5-minute hand ‘M’ Technique
with bergamot (Citrus bergamot) can provide rapid, therapeutic help for a colleague
SECTION II | Clinical Use of Aromatherapy
following a traumatic experience. If this is not possible, just inhaling angelica or
rose can be useful. Touch and smell may be as old as the hills, but they can be deeply
RJBA students have carried out numerous studies on stress in hospital staff.
Please see a selection from 2004 in Table 11-2.
Pemberton (2007) conducted a study on 14 ICU nurses to test if a 5% mixture
of lavender and clary sage (self-applied to the inner aspect of the arms) reduced
work-induced stress more than a placebo (carrier oil only). The study lasted
2 weeks. Each nurse was asked to evaluate his or her own stress using a VAS (0-10)
3 hours into a 12-hour shift. Then they applied Application 1 oil for the first three
shifts and Application 2 oil for the next three shifts. The results found that the
nurses’ stress decreased 50% more for Application 2 oil. Application 2 was the aromatherapy mixture. The study was published a few years later in Holistic Nursing
Practice (Pemberton & Turpin 2008).
Moonan (2012), another RJBA student, explored the effects of lavender and
Roman chamomile on the stress levels of the leadership and administrative group
for surgical programs and the pediatric transplant center at a large pediatric hospital
in Massachusetts, United States. Participants were randomly allocated to one of two
groups. Intervention was five drops each of chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) and
lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) in 20 mL of jojoba oil to be applied by a roller ball
when the participant felt stressed. The control group received a roller ball with rose
water only. The study took 3 weeks: baseline, intervention, washout. The perceived
stress score (PSS) was measured for each week and compared (n = 10). Participants
had greater reduction with the essential oil roller ball than with just rose water.
Yusui (2006), another RJBA student, explored the effect of inhaling peppermint
and bergamot in aromasticks on oncology night nurses. They measured stress at the
beginning, the midpoint, and at the end of their 12-hour shift using the PSS and
the VAS. The control group received an inhaler with jojoba vegetable oil that has a
slight smell but no essential oils. Both groups had some stress reduction, possibly as
a result of breathing deeply. However, stress reduction in the aromatherapy group
was 34% and in the control group only 12%.
Stress and Hospital Visitors
Visiting a sick relative in the hospital is stressful. What to say? What to do? Where
to sit? Frequently, the patient has insufficient energy to carry on a conversation and
the silences become longer and longer. The sicker the patient, the more stressed
the visitors (Auerbach et al 2005) and the less likely they are to touch their relative. Families often do not know what to do and can feel marginalized by hospital
staff (Molter 2007). The stress of families can communicate itself to the patient,
increasing the patient’s sense of helplessness. However, relatives and visitors want
to be able to help their loved one (Eldridge 2004). When you are a patient, the small
things in life become very important. These include fresh air, natural light, living
plants, kind touch, and pleasant smells. Few of these occur in a hospital. Perhaps
this is what Florence Nightingale meant when she is purported to have said the
Essential Oils
Peppermint, bergamot
Lavender, clary sage
Mandarin, geranium
Lavender, bergamot, ylang ylang
Lavender, clary sage
Hand ‘M’ Technique
Hand ‘M’ Technique
Bergamot, frankincense
Lavender, clary sage
Lavender, bergamot, angelica
Lavender/Roman chamomile
Inhaled and
‘M’ Technique
Roller ball
Cotton ball
Roller ball
‘M’ Technique
St. Michel
Lavender, bergamot
Geranium, bergamot, black pepper
Child abuse hotline
Night nurses
ICU nurses
Behavioral health nurses
Community hospital
Patients pre-breast
Clinical nurse managers
Hemodialysis patients
Surgical pediatric transplant staff
Outpatient clinic staff
Relatives and patients
Operating room staff
Nurse leadership
CHAPTER 11 | Stress and Well-Being
TABLE 11-2 RJBA Student Studies on Nurse Stress
ICU = Intensive care unit.
SECTION II | Clinical Use of Aromatherapy
“least fortunate were those who found themselves nearest to a hospital.” Hospital
visitors can do quite a lot to help alleviate their relatives’ stress as well as their own
Aromatherapy for Stressed Visitors
Chang (2008) found that aromatherapy hand massage eased anxiety, pain, and
depression in patients. Learning a simple hand massage or ‘M’ Technique and using
gentle essential oils can empower a visitor (even a child) and make the patient feel
special. No words are necessary; touch and smell can say it all. Aromatherapy costs
little in terms of money, time, or energy, but it communicates a great deal. Many
relatives are keen to learn something that can help their loved one (Eldridge 2004).
In a ground-breaking study in Texas (2012), Pritchard, an RJBA student who
works as a nurse in a trauma ICU, explored the effect of relatives using aromatherapy to help their loved ones. In this controlled study, Pritchard recruited relatives of 30 trauma patients in two separate groups of 15. The Hospital Anxiety and
Depression Scale (HADS tool) was administered on the first day to 15 relatives. Following this, the 15 relatives were asked to visit their loved one twice a day for three
consecutive days (Days 2, 3, and 4). They were asked to behave as usual and this
included touching and talking to the patient. The HADS tool was readministered to
the participant after the Day 4 visit. During the following week, no recruitment took
place. During the third week, a further 15 relatives were recruited. These relatives
were taught the hand ‘M’ Technique and were given a bottle of 5% bergamot to use
with the M. All relatives were patch-tested before taking part in the study. These
relatives performed the ‘M’ Technique plus bergamot on their loved one twice a day
for approximately 5 minutes per session for a total of 3 days (Days 2, 3, and 4). The
HADS tool was given to the participant again after the final ‘M’ Technique on Day 4.
There was a statistically significant reduction in the anxiety and depression levels
of relatives in the aromatherapy plus ‘M’ Technique group. This is the only study I
am aware of where relatives have been taught a simple aromatherapy technique by
members of the hospital staff. The study is certainly worth repeating on relatives of
different types of patients and perhaps measuring patient stress and anxiety levels
as well as relative stress and anxiety. This simple study has huge implications for
hospitals—to make them more hospitable for visitors as well as patients and staff.
Holism can occur simply in the interaction of all people concerned with a patient’s
care (Yoshiyama 2014).
If chronic stress continues unabated, it is possible to reach burnout. Maslach and
Leiter (2008) define burnout as “a prolonged response to chronic emotional and
interpersonal stressors.” They found that people who reach burnout had increased
cynicism and inefficacy. Varney, an RJBA student, explored the effect of a mixture
of inhaled essential oils on mental exhaustion and moderate burnout in a randomized, controlled, double-blind study (2010). What makes her study unusual was
that she chose ordinary people suffering from burnout, not healthcare professionals
CHAPTER 11 | Stress and Well-Being
or those in accepted high-stress jobs. Their burnout resulted from juggling childcare or care of an elderly relative with a full-time job or academic study. Fourteen
participants were randomly allocated to receive an aromastick containing (1) basil,
peppermint, and helichrysum or (2) rose water (control). During this 3-week study,
participants rated their symptoms on a VAS (0-10). The results found that inhaling
the mixture of peppermint, basil, and helichrysum essential oils several times a day
reduced the symptoms of burnout more than placebo. The study was published in
the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (Varney & Buckle 2012).
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
In 1980, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) added posttraumatic stress
disorder (PTSD) to the third edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III) nosologic classification scheme. Army personnel who have
been trained to handle chronic stress sometimes can suffer from PTSD when the
situation is over and it is safe for them to “let go.” The memory of certain smells can
be associated with highly emotional experiences. Because the olfactory cortex and
amygdala are involved in fear responsivity and survival, aromas can induce trauma
symptoms in anyone with PTSD (Vasterling et al 2000). In a randomized, controlled
study (Vermetten et al 2007) using positron emission tomography (PET) brain
scanning, the aromas of vanilla and diesel were tested on eight veterans with PTSD
and eight without PTSD against a control of plain air. The smell of diesel produced
the signs of stress only in the veterans with PTSD, not the veterans without PTSD
who rated it as only slightly less agreeable to vanilla. It is not just combat troops
with PTSD who are affected more severely by aromas. This is the case for others
such as refugees where aromas have triggered panic attacks (Hinton et al 2004). It
appears that those with PTSD are hypersensitive to stimuli and this includes aromas. Interestingly, an Australian study (Dileo et al 2008) found that people with
PTSD exhibited significant olfactory identification deficits (OIDs) compared to
controls, even though their cognitive measures were not compromised. Therefore,
it is important when using aromatherapy with anyone with PTSD to use essential
oils that will trigger good memories rather than traumatic ones. This is a fascinating
area for future study.
PTSD and Aromatherapy
Is it possible to reprogram the brain using aromas so that traumas can be overcome?
According to Abramovitch and Lichtenberg (2009), this may be so. They found that
needle phobia, panic disorder, and combat-induced PTSD all responded to olfactory conditioning under hypnosis. This article covers three case studies. The first
one, a 42-year-old male with needle fear who needed urgent dental surgery, was
successfully programmed using red mandarin under hypnosis not to fear needles
and dental surgery. The second case was a 37-year-old male with panic attacks and
agoraphobia who was taking venlafaxine 225 mg, alprazolam 2 mg, and risperidone 2 mg daily. After 3 months of olfactory conditioning with basil, he was able
to go without drugs. At his 1-year follow-up, he was smelling basil only once or
SECTION II | Clinical Use of Aromatherapy
TABLE 11-3 Published Studies on Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and
Abramovitz & Lichtenberg
Dileo et al
Hinton et al
Vasterling et al
Vermetten et al
War veterans
Cambodian refugees
War veterans
War veterans
Number of
twice a month and no longer suffered from panic attacks or agoraphobia. The third
case was a 51-year-old recently retired veteran who had full PTSD with secondary
depression, anxiety attacks, severe insomnia, and suicidal thoughts. Everyone else
in his armored carrier had been killed except him when it went over a mine. His
daily drug regimen included olanzapine 10 mg (antipsychotic), escitalopram 30 mg
(antidepressant), and clonazepam (mild tranquilizer). He also selected basil out of
several other aromas. After six sessions of olfactory conditioning with the hypnotherapist, his well-being had greatly improved. A year later this improvement had
been maintained. He was well enough to try and patch up his broken marriage. The
authors comment that they have had good results with essential oils in their hypnotherapeutic conditioning and have started formal research. For a list of published
studies on aromatherapy and PTSD, please see Table 11-3.
Abramovitz E, Lichtenberg P. 2009. Hypnotherapeutic olfactory conditioning (HOC): case studies of
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SECTION II | Clinical Use of Aromatherapy
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Wosu A, Valdimarsdóttir U, Shields A, Williams D, Williams M. 2013. Correlates of cortisol in human hair: implication for epidemiologic studies of health effects of chronic stress. Ann Epidemiol.
Yount. 2007. Forensic Science: from Fibers to Fingerprints. Chelsea House Publishing. New York, USA.
p 88.
Yoshiyama K. 2014. Personal communication.
Yusui T. 2006. Essential oil on work-related stress among oncology nurses working the night shift.
­Unpublished RJBA dissertation.
Section III
Aromatherapy in
Clinical Specialties
| Care of the Elderly
| Critical Care/ICU
| Dermatology
| Mental Health
| Oncology
| Palliative, Hospice, and End-of-Life Care
| Pediatrics
| Respiratory Care
| Women’s Health
ection III covers a selection of clinical specialties (arranged in alphabetical
­order). Each chapter focuses on a handful of specific problems within each
specialty and explores how aromatherapy might help alleviate those problems. As in Sections I and II, each chapter has been peer reviewed by an expert in
that field and is backed up with published research, clinical experience, case studies,
and small pilot studies. The aim in writing this section is to spotlight the clinical potential of aromatherapy within specific departments. Obviously there will be some
overlap among chapters, and the reader is advised to refer to the general index at the
back of the book to find other areas where the symptom has been discussed.
Finally, in the words of Abraham Lincoln “Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.” I am
trying to present the real thing—the clinical use of aromatherapy.
Care of the Elderly
“Growing old is like being increasingly penalized for a crime you have
not ­committed.”
Temporary Kings, by Anthony Powell (1973)
TABLE 12-1 | A Selection of Recently Published Studies on Dementia, 243
TABLE 12-2 | Dementia Studies by RJBA Students, 245
TABLE 12-3 | Selection of Some Recent Published Studies on Aromatherapy of Arthritis, 248
BOX 12-1 | Essential Oils for Dementia in Alphabetical Order, 246
The world population is growing older. People are living longer and surviving diseases that would previously have been fatal. This longevity produces an increasing
burden on healthcare services (Grover & Niecko-Najjum 2013). By 2022, there will
be an estimated 18 million cancer survivors in the United States alone (Mitka 2013).
In the UK, the aging population has produced major issues for healthcare provision
and planning (Caley & Sidhu 2011). In Japan, a single payment system has allowed
total healthcare spending to be controlled despite Japan’s growing elderly population (Ikegama & Anderson 2012). In The Netherlands, the estimated cost of healthcare, as a percentage of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), will rise from 13% in
2011 (€90 billion) up to 31% in 2040 (Eddes 2013).
Exercise, both mental and physical, plus good nutrition and a sense of contentment are important in successful aging (Ayers & Verghese 2013; Webster & Ma
2013; Wijsman et al 2013). It also helps to have good genes as a recent Canadian
genome study showed (Omoumi et al 2013). According to one survey, Japan has
the oldest population with approximately 25% of the population over 65 years of age
(Chartsbin 2011). However, the oldest woman, Jeanne Calment, who was French,
died aged 121 years. It is a sad part of Western culture that age is not revered,
and those who could impart so much information and life experience to younger
CHAPTER 12 | Care of the Elderly
members of society are frequently isolated in residential homes. This is not to denigrate such institutions, but to question why “civilized” society does not want to
look after its elderly. Perhaps the world has become so busy that there is no time to
just “be” with those whose sense of time has gone.
Aromatherapy and the Elderly
I remember seeing Helen Passant speak about using aromatherapy and touch in
her geriatric ward at a nursing conference in England during the 1980s; later I read
her article (Passant 1990). Her talk made a major impression on me and I decided
that integrating aromatherapy and gentle touch (the ‘M’ Technique®) into nursing care would become my life’s work. I wanted to change the face of nursing—to
put the caring back into it. Helen talked about how lavender seemed to open the
box of memories in her patients and how they became alive again. More recently,
­Verboomen (2005), an RJBA student, conducted a fascinating study on the memories elicited in 10 elderly people (aged 76 to 90 years) using five essential oils (bergamot, sweet marjoram, ylang ylang, myrrh, and angelica). Despite growing up in
the same area and having similar life experiences, the aromas produced different
thoughts. Interestingly, ylang ylang was the most liked aroma.
Aromatherapy in the care of the elderly has grown exponentially in the last 20
years. An example is an Australian study (Bowles et al 2005) on the use of aromatherapy in 28 separate residential geriatric care facilities. They found aromatherapy
was used extensively to manage symptoms of dementia and age-related physical
discomfort. Fifty-nine percent of residents were receiving aromatherapy regularly and 47% received daily treatments. The most commonly used essential oils
were lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia), geranium
(Pelargonium graveolens), eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus), and bergamot (Citrus
bergamia). Most facilities used aromatic foot-baths or hand, foot, limb, and neckand-shoulders massage with essential oils. Fifteen facilities used commercial blends.
Nishimura (2004) discusses the use of aromatherapy (hand and foot massage
with essential oils) in a nursing home for the elderly in Tokyo, Japan. The 800-bed
facility was established about 30 years ago and has a long waiting list. Its motto is
“the hospital to which you want to admit your aging mother for the best care.” A
team of aromatherapists (supplied by TEN Aroma Association) has offered treatments to its elderly residents (average age 90 years) twice a week for the past 10
years and the program is now well integrated into the facility. Staff state that the
residents really enjoy the treatments and it makes a substantial impact on their
quality of life. This gives the team of aromatherapists very high job satisfaction.
A Japanese study (Satou et al 2013) found that a 5-minute aromatherapy massage using 2% geranium (Pelagonium graveolens) and peppermint (Mentha piperita)
in jojoba oil twice a week reduced psychological stress among 11 elderly patients in
long-term hospitalization. A clear reduction was observed in the 12-question General Health Questionnaire (P < 0.05). A Norwegian study (Johannessen 2013) found
that diffusing lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) at night reduced sleep disturbance
in the elderly. A Korean study found a thrice weekly 20-minute aromatherapy
SECTION III | Aromatherapy in Clinical Specialties
massage with lavender, chamomile, rosemary, and lemon increased the self-esteem
of elderly women (Rho et al 2006).
In France, aromatherapy is included in the care of elderly residents at a retirement home for people with handicaps and special needs in the Lorraine region
(Barat-Dupont 2008). Essential oils were first introduced via cleaning materials in
2004. Integration then progressed through room disinfection to patient massage
with essential oils. All essential oils are dispensed on prescription and those providing treatment have trained for 2 years. At the time of writing, all residents’ rooms
are equipped with a diffuser and essential oils are diffused at regular times in the
dining area. In addition, essential oils such as Ravansara (Commiphora camphora
CT 1,8-cineole) and Eucalyptus radiata are used to protect residents from respiratory complaints during autumn and winter.
Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease
Dementia is an irreversible brain disease that causes progressive memory disturbance and personality disintegration (Brooker 2008). One of the most common
causes of dementia in the elderly is Alzheimer’s disease. This is when plaques containing abnormal protein appear in the cortex, leading to brain atrophy and the
presence of the characteristic neurofibrillary “tangles.” In this chapter, aromatherapy in dementia and Alzheimer’s disease will be discussed together, although it is
possible for dementia to occur without Alzheimer’s disease. See Table 12-1 for a list
of recently published studies on dementia.
Cases of mild cognitive impairment, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease are
increasing (Brodaty et al 2013). According to a UK study, one in 14 people over
65 years of age and one in six people over 80 years of age have some form of dementia (Alzheimers Society UK 2012). The Alzheimers Society of the United States
claims that 8 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease (Alzheimers Society USA
2013). Conventional treatment is with drugs such as donepezil (Kim et al 2013).
Olfactory dysfunction is thought to be a marker for detecting early Alzheimer’s
disease (Burns 2000; Jimbo et al 2011; Naudin et al 2013). This may be because individuals who are positive for the apolipoprotein E (ApoE) ε4 allele are at higher risk
for developing Alzheimer’s and the ε4 allele is linked to olfactory decline (Green
et al 2013). However, smell and touch are powerful messengers and can sometimes
penetrate the fog of dementia in a way words do not (MacMohan & Kermode 1998;
Smith et al 2002; Staal et al 2007).
Ho (1996) described the sensory-stimulation groups developed at Burton Hospital in Dudley, England. Odors were matched with colors, such as lavender with shades
of mauve and purple. Music associated with the aroma was played, such as the nursery
rhyme “Lavender Blue Dilly Dilly,” and patients had access to herbs and photographs
connected to the aroma. Frequently, patients with dementia were able to make the
correct connections. More recently, Snoezelen (a Dutch concept that was initiated in
the 1970s as a leisure activity for severely disabled people) has been expanded for use
with dementia patients (Berg et al 2010). Snoezelen rooms give the user a combined
experience of vision, touch, sounds, and aromas (Lofan & Gold 2009).
CHAPTER 12 | Care of the Elderly
TABLE 12-1 A Selection of Recently Published Studies on Dementia
Essential Oil
Common Name
Number of
Bowles et al
Bowles et al
Lin et al
Lavender lotion
Fujii et al
Burns et al
Fung et al
Fu et al
Lavender, two drops
on the collar
Lemon and
rosemary, am
Lavender and
orange, pm
Melissa, topical
Lavender spray
Jimbo et al
Kimura &
Citrus sinensis
Melissa officinalis
Lavender, diffused
11 trials
*Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), sweet marjoram (Origanum majorana), patchouli (Pogostemon cablin), and vetiver (Vetiveria zizanioides).
†Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia), geranium (Pelargonium graveolens),
eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus), and bergamot (Citrus bergamia).
‡Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus), cypress (Cupressus serpervirens), Persian lime (Citrus latifolia), mandarin (Citrus reticulata), lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus), and ginger (Zingiber officinale).
Ballard et al (2002) conducted one of the earliest randomized controlled trials
(RCTs) on 72 patients with severe dementia. In this British study, 10% melissa (Melissa
officinalis) in a lotion was applied to each participant’s face and arms twice a day. The
control group received sunflower oil. Results showed a highly significant reduction
in agitation using the Cohen–Mansfield Agitation Inventory (CMAI) score for the
aromatherapy group compared to the placebo group (35% and 11%, respectively). An
RCT by Lin et al (2007) found inhaled lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) was effective
in alleviating agitated behaviors in Chinese patients with dementia in Hong Kong.
Snow et al (2004) suggest that the effects of essential oils are greatly enhanced (and
actually may not be effective) without touch or massage. In their 10-week study of seven
nursing home residents with advanced dementia, split-middle analyses conducted separately for each patient revealed no treatment effects specific to inhaled lavender without
touch. However, a Japanese RCT on 28 patients with dementia (Fujii et al 2008) found
SECTION III | Aromatherapy in Clinical Specialties
that inhaled lavender did have a measurable effect on symptoms of dementia. The
aromatherapy group received two drops of lavender on their collar three times daily.
Outcome measures included the Neuropsychiatric Inventory (NPI), Mini-Mental State
Examination (MMSE), and Barthel Index tests. There was significant improvement in
the NPI score in the lavender group but not in the control group.
In a second Japanese study without touch, Jimbo et al (2009) explored the effect
of diffusing rosemary and lemon essential oils in the morning and diffusing lavender and orange essential oils in the evening. The study involved 28 elderly people
with dementia and 17 had Alzheimer’s disease. The study lasted for 84 days. The
study started with 28 days control, followed by 28 days aromatherapy, and then a
further 28 days of washout. Outcome measures included the Japanese version of the
Gottfries, Brane, Steen scale (GBSS-J), Functional Assessment Staging of Alzheimer’s disease (FAST), a revised version of Hasegawa’s Dementia Scale (HDS-R), and
the Touch Panel-type Dementia Assessment Scale (DTAS). All patients showed significant improvement in personal orientation related to cognitive function on both
the GBSS-J and TDAS after the aromatherapy intervention.
A Chinese systematic review (Fung et al 2012) of 11 RCTs shortlisted from electronic databases between 1995 and 2011 found that aromatherapy had reduced the
behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia (BPSD), improved cognitive
functions, increased quality of life, and enhanced independence in activities of daily
living. The authors concluded that aromatherapy was a safe and effective complementary therapy to use in dementia.
In an Australian study, Fu et al (2013) conducted an RCT (n = 67) to examine the
reduction of agitation in dementia. One group received 3% lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), sprayed directly on to the skin of the lower neck and upper chest, and a 2.5-minute hand massage twice a day for 6 weeks. The second group just received the lavender
spray, and the control group received a water mist spray. The results did not show any
significant reduction in agitation for either aromatherapy group. The authors comment
that spraying the aromatherapy mist on the chest (rather than inhaling it directly or
massaging it into the skin) may have contributed to the lack of effect. The hand massage
was also a little short. The hand ‘M’ Technique is usually given for 5 minutes, so it would
be interesting to repeat this study using a longer hand massage or the ‘M’ Technique.
Taking care of patients with Alzheimer’s disease can be challenging. In cases
where patients will not remain stationary, walking alongside them while simultaneously conducting a gentle hand ‘M’ Technique (with or without essential oils)
can lead to positive changes in the patient, such as renewed eye contact and speech
coherence. Several RJBA students have conducted studies on patients with dementia (Table 12-2). Quate (2002) used the ‘M’ Technique plus a 2% mixture of four
essential oils: lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), mandarin (Citrus sinensis), bergamot (Citrus bergamia), and petitgrain (Citrus aurantium var. amara fol). Her
study was carried out at a residential hospital for dementia patients in Ohio, United
States, and involved eight residents. Outcome measures included the Dementia
Care Mapping (DCM) tool that was used regularly every 3 months. Results were
compared with previous months and years. Aromatherapy plus the ‘M’ Technique
had an increased positive effect on 87% of residents.
CHAPTER 12 | Care of the Elderly
TABLE 12-2 Dementia Studies by RJBA Students
Essential Oil
Number of
*Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), mandarin (Citrus sinensis), bergamot (Citrus bergamia), and petitgrain (Citrus aurantium var. amara fol).
Room diffusers, nebulizers, and personal patches can be used in situations
where patients are confined to bed or who dislike any form of touch. Curran (2003),
another RJBA student, diffused lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) at sunset in the
main common room of a large residential long-term facility for dementia in Massachusetts, United States. Ambulatory patients frequently showed disruptive behavior
between 3 pm and 6 pm. Disruptive behavior at sunset is known as sundowning and
is a recognized syndrome of dementia (Sharer 2008; Khachiyants et al 2011; Carson
2012). In Curran’s study (n = 10), all patients who had been agitated before the
lavender diffusion became calm after the lavender was diffused.
Another RJBA student (Trumbull 2003) used lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
applied to a ribbon. (This was before aromatherapy patches became available.) The
ribbon was attached to the clothing of six residents in a long-term care facility in rural
New Hampshire, United States, at 2 pm each day for 6 consecutive days. The outcomes were compared with the 6 previous days. Five of the six residents had reduced
disruptive behavior. Denert (2005), another RJBA student, offered a 4 × 4 gauze swab
with four drops of bergamot (Citrus bergamia) to disruptive patients during the 11
am to 7 pm nurses shift. This study is particularly interesting because one of the outcome measures was the number of pro re nata (prn, as required) medications used
per patient. Of the 10 patients with disruptive or aggressive behavior (despite regular
medication), none required prn medication after the bergamot intervention. This was
a great improvement on the 12 prn medicines given in the baseline period.
Aromatherapy has also been found to be helpful for carers of patients with
dementia (Atkins & Smith 2009). This British study explored the effect of a weekly
aromatherapy massage on the stress and well-being of 12 carers of patients with
SECTION III | Aromatherapy in Clinical Specialties
Alzheimer’s disease over a period of 8 weeks. Outcome measures were taken at 1, 4,
and 8 weeks. They included MYMOP2 (Measure Your Medical Outcome Profile),
HADS (Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale), and a VAS (visual analog scale).
Results showed that aromatherapy reduced stress levels across all measures.
When a patient is unable to select an aroma, offer a choice of two different
smells that are likely to be familiar. Suggestions for aromas to try are listed in Box
12-1 (listed in alphabetical order).
Preventing Falls in the Elderly
In many countries, fall prevention among older adults has become a major public
health issue (Axer et al 2010; Quigley et al 2010; Chang et al 2013; Tchalla et al
2013). Odor is one of the strongest stimuli over a wide area of the cerebral cortex
(Lopez & Blanke 2011), therefore it makes sense to offer an aroma and see if it
reduces the number of falls. A Japanese study (Sakamoto et al 2012) found that
inhaling lavender prevented falls in the elderly. In this RCT (n = 145), the experimental group wore a lavender patch attached to their clothes for continuous inhalation of lavender (Lavandula angustifolia). There were fewer fallers in the lavender
group (26) than in the placebo group (36). This is interesting because lavender is
traditionally used to relax people. I have used peppermint on a gauze swab to help
elderly people concentrate before they get up and it does seem to work. The only
study I could find on aiding ambulation and peppermint was on mice (Umezu et al
2001). It would be interesting to do further studies in this area. Suggested essential
oils would be rosemary, peppermint, rose, lemon, and of course lavender.
Skin Ulcers and Slow Healing Wounds
Aging slows down the body’s ability to heal. Skin becomes thinner and more fragile, and the slightest knock can cause a deep bruise, especially if the person is taking
BOX 12-1 Essential Oils for Dementia in Alphabetical Order
Common Name
Clary sage
Botanical Name
Slavia sclarea
Eucalyptus globulus
Pelargonium graveolens
Zingiber officinalis
Lavandula angustifolia
Citrus reticulate
Melissa officinalis
Pogostemon patchouli
Mentha piperita
Rosa damascena
Rosmarinus officinalis
Santalum album
Cananga odorata var. genuine
CHAPTER 12 | Care of the Elderly
steroids. Very gentle massage with cold-pressed vegetable oils, such as oil of evening
primrose, can aid the elasticity of aging skin, and certain essential oils can enhance the
ability of aging skin to heal. Although most of the published research on essential oils
in wound care is on animals (Orafidiya et al 2003; Suntar et al 2012; Tumen et al 2012),
there are plenty of articles and case studies to show that aromatherapy is used in many
counties for skin ulcers and slow healing wounds, for example, UK (Thorne 1996;
Harris 2006; Clark 2011; Price 2012), United States (Ames 2006), Australia (Mercier
& Knevitt 2005; Kerr 2006), South Africa (Nye 2005), and Canada (Tavares 2011).
Ames (2006) describes using essential oils on the chronic leg ulcer (Stage 2) of a
70-year-old diabetic woman. The ulcer measured 4 × 4 cm. Despite medical treatment, the ulcer had never resolved and she was referred to Ames (a nurse practitioner) for aromatherapy treatment. German chamomile 10% (Matricaria recutita) in
grapeseed oil was applied twice a day and the wound completely healed in 13 days.
Four years later, the wound remained healed.
Alan Barker, a clinical aromatherapist who was employed by the British National
Health Service (NHS), used floral waters to irrigate wounds (Barker 1994). Floral waters
are the byproduct of steam distillation and can be obtained from many essential oil
suppliers. Slightly acidic, they are refreshing to use, smell lovely, and are excellent for
skin care. (Floral waters are slightly acidic because they contain parts of the essential oil
that are most soluble.) When using floral water, make sure the distributor can supply
an analysis to prove the floral water is not contaminated with bacteria or fungi. Tellier
(2005) explains how she used hydrosols to heal granulated scar tissue at a stoma site.
After irrigating the wound, a compress soaked in diluted (10% to 25%) essential oils can be applied to aid healing. The essential oils will reduce inflammation,
encourage granulation, and reduce the chance of infection. Apply a fresh compress
twice daily, or every 4 hours if the wound is infected. In another case study by Ames
(2006), 10% tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) and frankincense (Boswellia carterii) in
calendula-infused oil (Calendula officinalis) was applied directly to the wound cavity of a heel ulcer (3.5 × 5 × 2.2 cm in depth). It was then packed loosely with gauze
soaked in the essential oil mixture, and a nonadhesive bandage was applied to hold
it in place. This was a Stage 4 pressure ulcer so there was full thickness skin loss with
extensive tissue destruction and necrosis. Multiple drug regimens and products had
previously been used with no effect; in fact, the wound was increasing. However, the
ulcer decreased to 0.8 cm in depth in only 14 days and went on to heal completely.
Kerr (2002, 2006), who has done much to introduce essential oils into wound
care in Australia, writes about the use of essential oils to treat diabetic venous ulcers
in a man aged 80 years. The wound started as a simple abrasion and slowly became
worse. It ended up measuring 8 × 3 cm although mainly superficial. Conventional
dressings, including compression bandages, plus antibiotics made no difference to
the ulcer. Kerr used a 12% essential oil mixture: lavender (Lavandula angustifolia),
German chamomile (Matricaria recutita), myrrh (Commiphora molmol), and tea
tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) mixed into fresh aloe vera gel. The pain subsided on
the first application of the gel and the ulcer healed completely. A favorite mixture of
mine for slow healing of wounds is lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), helichrysum
SECTION III | Aromatherapy in Clinical Specialties
TABLE 12-3 Selection of Some Recent Published Studies on Aromatherapy
of Arthritis
Essential Oil
Number of
Kim et al
Smith et al
Yip & Tam
Eucalyptus globulus
Zingiber officinalis
*Lavender, marjoram, eucalyptus, rosemary & peppermint
(Helichrysum italicum), tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia), and frankincense (Boswellia
carterii) in Calophyllum inophyllum (Tamanu).
Osteoarthritis and Hemorrhoids
No chapter on care of the elderly would be complete without a mention of osteoarthritis and hemorrhoids. Although essential oils will not prevent osteoarthritis,
topically applied essential oils such as ginger, black pepper, or peppermint can certainly help soothe the pain (Bliddel et al 2000; Cote 2002; Yip & Tam 2008). A small
list of published research on arthritis can be found in Table 12-3. There is more
information about essential oils for pain in the chapter on pain. In a different type
of study, Joksimovic et al (2012) explored the effect of tea tree in an ointment (trade
name Proctoial) on 36 patients with hemorrhoids in a double-blind RCT. Results
showed that the tea tree ointment reduced all symptoms more than the placebo.
Finally, as I am now officially an elderly person myself, I would like to finish this
chapter with the poem below.
The body it crumbles. Grace and vigor depart.
There is now a stone where I once had a heart.
But inside this old carcass, a young girl still dwells,
And now and again my battered heart swells.
I remember the pain, and I remember the joys,
And I’m living and loving all over again.
And I think of the years, all too few, gone too fast,
And accept the stark fact that nothing will last.
So open your eyes, nurse, open and see, not a crabbed old woman.
Look closer. See me.
Anonymous—found in a nursing home after the author’s death. (cited in ­Montagu
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Critical Care/ICU
“Feeling safe is an overall need for Critical Care/ICU patients, and safety is negatively
affected by lack of control.”
Brigid Lusk 2005
TABLE 13-1 | Hospital-Acquired Infection in Critical Care, 253
TABLE 13-2 | Essential Oils for Resistant Infections, 255
TABLE 13-3 | Published Studies on Nursing Stress in the ICU, 263
search of the literature using the words ICU (intensive care unit) or critical care
plus aromatherapy identified more articles on preventing and treating hospital
acquired infection in the ICU than anything else, so this chapter will begin with
specific infections in the ICU. General infection will be covered in the chapter on
Despite the advances in critical care, the incidence of infection continues to rise
(Kaye et al 2010). An international study of 1265 ICUs, found 60% of ICU patients
were considered infected at the time of survey (Vincent et al 2009). Infection was
a strong independent predictor for mortality (OR = 1.51, P < 0.001). Patients in
critical care are more vulnerable to hospital-acquired infection (HAI) than any
other hospital department (Mnatzaganian et al 2005), and this is a problem for
many countries (Januel et al 2010; Kallel et al 2010; Kollef 2008; Honda et al 2010;
Yamakawa et al 2011).
ICU-acquired infections account for significant morbidity, mortality, and
expense. The most frequently identified infections are ventilator-associated pneumonia, bloodstream infections caused by use of a central venous catheter, and urinary tract infections (Rosenthal et al 2006; Starnes et al 2008; Vincent et al 2009;
Yamakawa et al 2011). Many ICU pathogens are now drug resistant (Weinstein &
Bonten 2005). These include methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)
and multidrug-resistant Pseudomonas aeruginosa (MDRPA). Gram-negative bacteria, such as Pseudomonas, are particularly difficult to treat (Neuhauser et al 2003)
CHAPTER 13 | Critical Care/ICU
and Clostridium difficile has become more daunting during the last few years
(Bobo et al 2011) (Table 13-1).
To exacerbate the situation, a new bacterial pathogen has appeared in the ICU:
Acinetobacter baumannii (Acinetobacter B). Acinetobacter B is an aerobic gramnegative bacillus (similar in appearance to Haemophilus influenzae on Gram stain).
This pathogen is appearing in more and more ICUs worldwide (Heo et al 2011)
(Kong et al 2011). Very quickly it became drug resistant. Multidrug-resistant Acinetobacter baumannii (MDRAB) caused the closure of an ICU in France on four
occasions during an epidemic (Landelle et al 2013). The cause of the outbreak was
traced to the transfer of two patients from Tahiti. During the following 18 months,
a further 84 ICU patients became infected. Cross-infection was thought to be from
hands of health personnel, poor cleaning protocols, airborne spread, and contaminated water from sink traps.
TABLE 13-1 Hospital-Acquired Infection in Critical Care
Januel et al
Luqman et al
In vitro
Kallel et al
Erbay et al
Vincent et al
Honda et al
Meric et al
Kaye et al
Rosenthal et al
Trouillet et al
et al
Heo et al
Death from HAI
Drug-resistant mutants of
Mycobacterium smegmatis,
Escherichia coli and
Candida albicans
Site of infection
P. aeruginosa, ­Acinetobacter B
Pseudomonas aeruginosa,
MRSA, Acinetobacter B
Site of infection MRSA,
­Acinetobacter B Pseudomonas, and Candida spp.
precolonized patients
Staphylococcus aureus,
Acinetobacter B
Infected suction equipment
in ICU
Infected devices in ICU
Pseudomonas pneumonia
MRSA at admission
MDR Acinetobacter B
Clostridium difficile
75 countries
United States
United States
United States
SECTION III | Aromatherapy in Clinical Specialties
MDRAB and Pseudomonas A are very challenging to treat, and even the polymyxin group of drugs (such as colistin), used as a last resort for treatment of gramnegative bacterial infections, are not always successful (Balaji et al 2011). The
incidence of Acinetobacter B was reduced for a year following the structural renovation of an ICU in Japan. However, this appeared to be transient (Nah et al 2013).
In Poland, MDRAB was brought under control by vaporizing hydrogen peroxide in
two ICUs (Chmielarczyk et al 2012).
Some equipment used in critical care, such as suction regulators, can become
compromised with bacteria (Kaye et al 2010). Rosenthal et al (2006) found that
between 2002 and 2005, 21,069 patients who were hospitalized in ICUs in 55
separate intensive care units in eight developing countries acquired 3095 deviceassociated infections. Ventilator-associated pneumonia posed the greatest risk
having caused 41% of all device-associated infections, followed by bloodstream
infections associated with central vascular catheters (CVCs) (30%), and then followed by catheter-associated urinary tract infections (29%).
Boucher et al (2009) reports on the lack of new antibacterial drugs in the pipeline against the most prevalent resistant bacteria: Enterococcus faecium, Staphylococcus
aureus, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Acinetobacter baumannii, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and
Enterobacter species. However, for this chapter, emphasis will be on the drug-resistant
pathogens in the ICU and a discussion of the best way forward. Clostridium difficile
(C. diff)-associated diarrhea is increasing in ICUs (Kollef 2008). In a study by Dodek
et al (2013), of 15,314 patients admitted to the ICUs during the study period, 236
developed Clostridium difficile infection (CDI) and this was associated with a longer
stay in the ICU. Drug-resistant C. diff is also increasing and such is the severity that, in
some instances, it is being treated with fecal transplantation (Nagy 2012).
Kon and Rai (2012) suggest that essential oils could be used as effective treatments
against many bacterial pathogens, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus
aureus (MRSA), vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE) plus resistant isolates of
Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Klebsiella pneumoniae and others. They also suggest that
certain essential oils may potentiate the effectiveness of antibiotics against MDR bacteria. Fadli et al (2012) led a Moroccan study that explored the effect of combining essential oils with conventional medicines against resistant bacteria involved in
nosocomial infections. They explored the combined effects of two different species
of thyme endemic to Morocco (Thymus maroccanus and T. broussonetii) plus conventional antibiotics such as ciprofloxacin, gentamicin, pristinamycin, and cefixime.
Of the 80 combinations tested, 71% showed total synergism, 20% had partial synergy
and 9% showed no effect. The combinations were more successful with gram-positive
bacteria than gram-negative. Cavacrol, one of the main components in thyme, had an
“interesting synergistic effect in combination with ciprofloxacin” (Fadli et al 2012).
They concluded that their findings were “very promising” as this kind of combination
CHAPTER 13 | Critical Care/ICU
treatment for nosocomial infections is likely to reduce the minimum effective dose
needed of the antibiotic, thus minimizing any possible toxic side effects and reducing
treatment cost. No mention is made of how the combination would be delivered.
Clearly some essential oils, such as horseradish, are not suitable for use with
ICU patients (or probably anyone!) although they have been found to be effective against MRSA (Nedorostova et al 2011). However, as Table 13-2 shows, there
are many other essential oils (such as Eucalyptus globulus) that are effective against
resistant pathogens, and smell pleasant (Tohidpour et al 2010). Several other studies suggest combining essential oils with conventional antibiotics (Shin & Kim 2005;
Rosato et al 2007; Saad et al 2010). Langeveld et al (2013) postulate on the synergistic ability of separate components within essential oils to potentiate conventional
antibiotics. They suggest carvacrol, cinnamaldehyde, cinnamic acid, eugenol, and
thymol could have a synergistic effect when used in combination with antibiotics.
TABLE 13-2 Essential Oils for Resistant Infections
Essential Oil
Silva et al
P. aeruginosa
E. faecalis
Agar diffusion
Duarte et al
Végh et al
P. aeruginosa
Hamoud et al
Lysakowska et al
Lavandula vera
L. intermedia
L. pyrenaica
L. stoechas
Thymus vulgaris
Tyagi et al
Mentha arvensis
Myrtle ­communis
P. aeruginosa
P. aeruginosa
of ciprofloxacin, gentamicin, and
Tube dilution
0.2% polysorbate 80
Kill time assay
Agar diffusion
Vapour and liquid diffusion
Disk diffusion
SECTION III | Aromatherapy in Clinical Specialties
TABLE 13-2 Essential Oils for Resistant Infections—cont’d
Essential Oil
Roller et al
Direct contact
Doran et al
L. latifolia
L. stoechas
L. luisieri
Diffused into
Jazani et al
A. baumannii
C. difficile
Hosseini et al
Chao et al
Dryden et al
P. aeruginosa
Lemon myrtle
Tea tree
Basil: Ocimum
P. aeruginosa
MDR E. coli
48 isolates from
humans. Disc
52 burn isolates
2 hospitals
Disc diffusion
Human study;
224 patients
Kill time assay
In a separate paper, Saad et al (2010) found essential oils of two species of thyme
potentiated the effect of amphotericin B and fluconazole B against Candida, a fungal
infection now becoming more common in ICU. Rosato et al (2008) found several
essential oils potentiated the effect of amphotericin B against Candida. And, in a
later paper, Rosato et al (2009) found Oreganum vulgar (oregano) and Pelargonium
graveolens (geranium) enhanced the effect of Per Google: Nystatin on Candida.
Chan et al (2010) suggest using polymeric nanoparticles (NPs) for drug delivery. The use of biodegradable microparticles for controlled drug delivery has shown
great potential as they can target specific areas of the body and thus reduce toxicity.
Ungaro et al (2012) explored the use of tiny dry particles containing antibiotics
for the treatment of pulmonary infections. They concluded “aerosolized antibiotics offer an attractive way to deliver high drug concentrations directly to the site
of infection, reducing the toxicity while improving the therapeutic potential of
CHAPTER 13 | Critical Care/ICU
existing antimicrobial agents against resistant microorganisms.” Ultrasonic diffusion will readily break up any essential oil into many tiny particles that can also be
easily absorbed by the lung. This could be an area for exciting research.
Sometimes, the oldest medicines can still be effective. Olbas is an over-thecounter medicine that has been used for many years for respiratory infections. It
contains a mixture of essential oils: peppermint, eucalyptus, cajuput oil plus small
amounts of juniper berry oil and wintergreen oil. Hamoud et al (2012) evaluated
the minimum inhibitory and minimum microbicidal concentrations of Olbas
(and each of the single essential oils) on 17 species/strains of bacteria and fungi.
Olbas displayed a high antimicrobial activity against all test strains used, including
antibiotic-resistant MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) and VRE
(vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus). This study also compared the kill time of peppermint essential oil on its own and found it was comparable to that of the mixture.
An interest in the medical use of essential oils for infection has led to the application of several patents (Sienkiewicz et al 2012). However, not every essential oil
will be effective against every resistant pathogen. A selection of some of the studies
showing effective essential oils against specific resistant pathogens relevant to ICU
can be found in Table 13-2.
Twelve years ago, Caelli et al (2000) found the effects of a 5% tea tree oil body
wash combined with 4% tea tree oil nasal ointment was comparable to a standard
triclosan body wash plus 2% mupirocin nasal ointment for the eradication of MRSA.
As pathogens mutated to accommodate triclosan, hexachloraphine was introduced.
Until about 3 years ago, patients in the ICU were sponge-bathed daily, initially with
soap and water, which was superseded by a triclosan soap. Today, patients in many
ICUs worldwide are wiped down every day with chlorhexidine instead of receiving a sponge bath. This is to reduce the acquisition of resistant pathogens (Climo
et al 2009; Munoz-Price et al 2009; Borer et al 2007). In Climo’s study, patients in
six ICUs were wiped down daily with chlorhexidine for six months and the incidence of bloodstream infections with MRSA and VREC were monitored. MRSA
decreased by 32% and VREC decreased by 50%. Munoz-Price (2009) found that
daily 2% chlorhexidine “cleaning” reduced the incidence of CVC-associated bloodstream infections by 90%, but this did not reduce ventilator-associated pneumonia.
Borer et al (2007) found 4% chlorhexidine wipes reduced the prevalence of Acinetobacter B bloodstream infections by 85%. In this study, all patients were screened for
skin colonization with Acinetobacter B on admission to the medical ICU.
Although chlorhexidine is a common, topical antiseptic skin scrub in hospital and
household settings in the United States, it does have some problems (Sivathasan &
Vijayarajan 2010), (Sivathasan & Goodfellow 2011). In 2012, the Medicines and
Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) UK issued a patient safety alert
on the risk of anaphylactic reactions from medical devices and medicinal products
containing chlorhexidine (MHRA 2012). A similar antiseptic action (with a much
nicer smell and no sticky after feel) could be achieved by using a few drops of the
relevant essential oil on a washcloth, and sponge-bathing the patient. This can also
be achieved by using a soap/gel containing the relevant antibacterial essential oils.
SECTION III | Aromatherapy in Clinical Specialties
If I was a patient in an ICU, I would prefer to have water on my skin instead of a
chlorhexidine wipe with its sticky, unpleasant residue and horrible smell, especially
if the essential oils gave me the same protection against resistant pathogens. There is
more to giving a sponge bath to a patient in ICU than preventing infection; it is also
about refreshing patients and helping them to feel as good as possible about their
situation. If essential oils are as effective as chlorhexidine, why not use them? And if
there is no research, why not do some?
Inoculation of the formerly sterile lower respiratory tract with pathogens typically
arises from aspiration of secretions, colonization of the aerodigestive tract, or use of
contaminated equipment or medications (Safdar et al 2005). It is possible that hospitalacquired respiratory tract infections could be reduced by a few simple ways with aromatherapy. Here are some ideas to reduce across-the-board infection in Critical Care/ICU:
1.Place a few drops of relevant essential oils on to a filter placed in the tubing
that connects the ventilator to the patient. (Filters are common in the portable
2.There is a one-way valve that connects the ventilator tubing from the heater
to another piece of tubing that goes to the patient. (This is used to prevent
patient’s secretions from going into the heater.) Essential oil could be added to
the side of the filter that faces the patient.
3.There is a filter that fits on a tracheostomy. This is used for patients who are
only receiving oxygen through a tracheostomy. The filter is green and spongy.
Essential oils could be added to the filter.
4.Suction is usually part of a closed system in the ICU and the canister that collects the secretions is changed every day. The canister could have a few drops of
essential oil added to prevent any pathogen in the secretions from leaking into
the air while it is changed.
5.A few drops of diluted essential oils could be applied around the central venous
line insertion site twice a day.
6.A few drops of diluted essential oil could be added to the urinary drainage bag.
7.The air in an ICU could be tested for airborne infection on a weekly basis.
This could be done simply with an empty glass jar and the identification of
pathogens that developed within a 12-hour period. Once any airborne pathogens are identified, essential oils could be used in electric diffusers, or personal
patches on the patient, to ensure the air immediately around the patient was
kept pathogen-free.
8.A separate diffuser could be positioned near the nurses’ station to reduce stress
and/or encourage alertness, as well as preventing cross-infection.
9.ICU equipment could be wiped down twice daily with an essential oil mix. The
mixtures should be changed weekly (either in percentage mix 2:3:1 to 3:1:2, or
in combination of essential oils) to prevent pathogens becoming resistant.
10.The sink drains could be checked for infection weekly and treated with essential
It is important to keep changing the mixture of essential oils. A study by McMahon
et al (2007) found that, although tea tree was still effective against many pathogens,
CHAPTER 13 | Critical Care/ICU
habitation to sub-lethal concentrations of tea tree caused the minimum inhibitory
concentration (MIC) required to increase slightly. The implications of this are discussed in the infection chapter.
Critical care and ICUs are places where sudden emergency situations can occur
at any time. Patients often experience excessive noise, constant light, unpleasant
odors, crisis situations, fear of infection, and fear of death. Patients in ICUs face
more invasive and obnoxious procedures than in any other unit in a hospital. Invasive procedures are those such as the insertion of hemodynamic monitoring lines,
thoracentesis, paracentesis, and chest-tube placement and removal. As well as the
uncertainty and invasive procedures, patients experience many things that can
make them fearful. They are surrounded by complicated (and often noisy) machinery and are unable to speak if they are ventilated. Their life depends on those who
care for them, so replacing that fear with trust is hugely important. Some ICUs are
dedicated to surgical or medical patients. Other ICUs have a mixture of patients:
some with grave, long-term medical conditions with other patients who have had
major surgery and may be discharged to another part of the hospital after a very
short stay.
Two days after discharge from an ICU in England, 71 patients were asked to
rank a list of stressful items (Cornock 1998). Top of the list was thirst, followed by
tubes in the nose or mouth, inability to communicate and being unable to move.
However, lack of control, not knowing the time, and fear of death were also listed.
Fear should not be underestimated. It is a strong emotion that links most ICU
patients and their relatives.
Over 20 years ago, in 1989, Ingham (an ICU nurse) suggested communication should be written in to a patient’s care plan and Ashworth (1984), another
ICU nurse, wrote of the importance in learning nonprocedural touch as a method
of communicating and reassuring patients. This is still the case today, noting that
many patients still suffer from anxiety and depression even after discharge from
an ICU (Flaaten 2010). Touch is a communication skill that can enhance trust.
Henricson et al (2009) wrote of the hope gained by ICU patients who had experienced gentle tactile touch from nurses. Almerud et al (2008) writes that “tools are
useful, but technology can never replace the closeness and empathy of the human
touch.” Lusk (2005) wrote that ICU nurses should be physically present for their
patients and when nurses were perceived as caring and competent, this reduced the
patient’s level of fear. Gentle touch is one of the simplest methods of reducing fear.
O’Lynn and Krautscheid (2011) wrote “perhaps no aspect of care is as essential to
nursing as touch. Nurses touch patients to perform clinical tasks, communicate
caring and ensure comfort.” How strange and sad that today not all nursing schools
include any method of simple touch in their curriculum. The ‘M’ Technique® was
created to fill such a vacuum and it is my deep hope that nurses will learn this
gentle method of touch as a basic part of nursing education. Sometimes a nurse may
SECTION III | Aromatherapy in Clinical Specialties
overlook the stress of an ICU patient, because she/he is more concerned with maintaining the patient’s hemodynamic stability. But I hope the day never comes when
a nurse is too busy to touch a patient: it only takes a few minutes. Nursing schools
that do include Watson’s Theory of Transpersonal Caring are moving in this direction of holding a patient’s hand, hand massage, and back rubs during evening care
(Schmock et al 2009; Hills & Watson 2011).
Being a patient in an ICU can be a psychologically traumatic and socially isolating. An ICU nurse who experienced being intubated as a patient in an ICU
described how “her worst nightmare came true.” She felt “abandoned and longed
for someone to reassure her.” Following her experience she understood “why it
was sometimes necessary to hold a patient’s hand” (Urden 1997). It is greatly
underestimated how important it is for ICU patients to feel trust and confidence
in their caregivers. Nonprocedural touch and pleasant aromas can do much to
relieve anxiety and give comfort in what is perceived by patients to be a “hostile
environment” (Welsh 1997). Essential oils can be used in many ways in an ICU
from aiding intravenous insertions (Kristiniak et al 2012) to alleviating bronchial
spasm (Buckle 1998).
Early studies of aromatherapy in the ICU (Woolfson & Hewitt 1992; Buckle 1993;
Stevensen 1994; Dunn et al 1995) showed that massage using aromatherapy was an
effective method of reducing patients’ stress. The essential oil used was predominantly lavender, although Stevensen used neroli. The percentage used was low: 1%
to 3%. Massage lasted between 15 and 30 minutes. Comments from patients were
very encouraging: “Aromatherapy made me feel like a whole person.” “I feel like
you really cared about me.” “I felt like I was important, not just a number, and that
you really would take care of me.” “Until you did that, I was really scared, but you
made me feel it would be okay to relax.” Nurses in the study said they felt empowered as aromatherapy helped their patients feel less afraid.
In my own study (Buckle 1993), one of my patients said to me “you were the
first person who didn’t hurt me.” That really made me think; I hadn’t gone into
nursing to hurt people! But much of what happens in the ICU is painful or distressing. There is little pleasure. Waldman et al (1993) suggested the following essential
oils were useful in ICU: lavender, clary sage, jasmine, peppermint, rose, rosemary,
tea tree, and ylang ylang. The oils were used in a 2% massage or in electric burners. Other nurse/aromatherapists suggested neroli, Roman chamomile, sandalwood, lemon, lemongrass, and palma rosa. Mitchell (2002), a critical care nurse,
chose frankincense, geranium, petitgrain, sweet marjoram, mandarin, juniper, and
German chamomile. I would choose an aroma that was familiar to the patient. If
it was impossible to know what that was because there were no relatives to ask, I
would use a mixture of rose, frankincense, mandarin, and lavender.
Cho et al (2013) conducted a randomized, controlled study to measure the
effects of aromatherapy on anxiety, vital signs and sleep on 55 patients receiving
CHAPTER 13 | Critical Care/ICU
percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI). The essential oils used were lavender,
Roman chamomile and neroli. Patients inhaled the mixture (using an aromastone
that gently heated the essential oils and so made them vaporized) using 10 deep
breaths both before and after PCI. Then the aromastone was placed under the
patient’s pillow until the following morning. Outcome measures were the Spielberger State-Trait Anxiety Inventory Form Korean YZ (STAI-KYZ) and the Korean
translation form of the VSH Sleep Scale (Verran and Snyder-Halpern). The aromatherapy group showed significantly less anxiety (P < 0.001) and improved sleep
quality (P = 0.001) than the group who received conventional nursing care. Interestingly, the blood pressure of the control group rose immediately before and during the intervention. This did not happen with the aromatherapy group.
Hsieh (2011) gave a presentation at the Sigma Theta Tau International Honor
Society of Nursing 41st Biannual Conference in Grapevine, Texas. Her randomized,
control study evaluated the effects of using aromatherapy on patients in a 50-bed
ICU in Taiwan over a period of 1 week. The results indicated that aromatherapy
improved physical and psychological problems, especially for leg edema (P < 0.05)
and anxiety (P < 0.05). This study found an additional benefit: the patients’ families
could help with the aromatherapy, thus removing their own feelings of powerlessness and fear.
Moeini et al (2010) conducted a controlled study to assess the effect of lavender
for insomnia on patients with ischemic heart disease in an ICU. Sixty-four patients
took part in this Iranian study. Those in the aromatherapy group received 9 hours
of lavender for 3 nights (two drops lavender oil on a piece of cotton placed within
20 cm of the patient’s head). The control group received standard nursing care.
There was a significant difference between the mean scores of sleep quality in the two
groups (P = 0.001). Outcome measures also included a sleep quality questionnaire.
Each patient is someone’s child, no matter how old he or she is. Most patients
in ICUs are frightened, no matter how brave they try to appear. ICUs can be very
frightening for relatives too. Mitchell (2002) writes that an ICU often stuns relatives, and how appreciative relatives are when their loved ones receive the loving
care that aromatherapy provides.
I remember seeing my own father and brother-in-law in an ICU several years
ago. I experienced the helplessness many relatives and visitors feel even though I had
trained and worked in ICUs for many years. Often relatives feel there is nothing they
can do except wait and pray. Aromatherapy presents a wonderful opportunity to give
the family a simple way to contribute and provide comfort for their loved one.
The gentle, stroking movements of the ‘M’ Technique, which can be used with
or without essential oils, are extremely simple to learn (Roberts & Campbell 2011;
Rickerby & Cordell 2012; Buckle 2013). I showed the ‘M’ Technique to a 5-year-old
granddaughter who spent almost an hour lovingly stroking her grandfather’s hands.
Her sad, cross little face softened as she sang gently under her breath, moving her
hands in time to her lullaby. Her parents watched her as she worked, amazed at the
transformation. This little girl knew she had been given an important task, one that
not only empowered her, but was actually of therapeutic value.
SECTION III | Aromatherapy in Clinical Specialties
Teaching relatives to touch in this way does not take very long, probably only
10 minutes. Everyone can find 10 minutes. Talking with relatives about aromas
that their loved ones enjoyed before they came into the hospital allows dialogue
on a safe subject. Choosing an aroma that relatives feel could help their loved ones
gives them a way of becoming involved. It is best to offer just a few aromas known
to have relaxing effects. The floral aromas are usually popular. The rose essential oil
used on my brother-in-law in Papworth Hospital, Cambridge, England, produced
a smile even though he was extremely ill and it was also appreciated by the staff who
gravitated toward the lovely smell.
A study at Harris Methodist Medical Center, Texas, for RJBA certification by
Pritchard (2012) evaluated the effect of aromatherapy on family members and
friends of patients in the ICU following traumatic injury. This controlled study
used bergamot in a hand ‘M’ Technique. Nurses took a few moments to teach the
‘M’ Technique to 30 relatives and friends. The relatives and friends then used their
newly learned skill to administer to their loved one and afterward rated their own
sense of anxiety and depression. The results showed a statistically significant reduction in anxiety and depression in the aromatherapy group (P = 0.0018). The study
is being submitted for publication. Hopefully, other studies will follow, as this is a
very simple, effective and inexpensive way to empower relatives and friends, soothe
patients and help nursing staff.
ICU Nurses Stress
Patients and relatives are not the only people to feel stress in an ICU—nurses do
Mealer et al (2012) conducted semi-structured interviews with 27 ICU nurses.
Thirteen were “highly resilient” and 14 had posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The differences were identified in four main areas: social network, worldview, cognitive flexibility and self-care. The resilient nurses used positive coping skills and
psychological characteristics to help them cope. Yava et al (2010) explored the perceptions of stress of both nurses and patients in an ICU in Turkey and concluded
that several factors could reduce the stressful perceptions. These included having
familiar arrangements, a humane ICU environment and appropriate nursing interventions (Table 13-3).
Carayon and Gurses (2005) explored the relationship between workload and
quality of life for ICU nurses for her PhD doctoral studies. Of the 300 nurses in 17
ICUs in seven hospitals, the results showed a clear correlation between workload
and quality of life. Ulas (2012) investigated the effects of day and night shifts on the
anxiety of 120 ICU nurses by measuring blood samples before and after shift for
total antioxidant status. Interestingly there was no difference in day or night shifts.
Her paper was published in 2005 (Carayon & Gurses).
Pemberton and Turpin (2008) carried out an innovative piece of research investigating the effects of aromatherapy on nurses in an ICU. This small pilot study was
the first to evaluate the effect of a topical application of the essential oils Lavandula
angustifolia and Salvia sclaria on the work-related stress of 14 nurses in an ICU
CHAPTER 13 | Critical Care/ICU
TABLE 13-3 Published Studies on Nursing Stress in the ICU
Number in Study
Mealer et al
Yava et al
Ulas et al
Outcome Measures
Resilience Scale
ICU Environmental
Stressor Scale
Quality of Working Life
Oxidative Stress and
Anxiety Index
setting. Results demonstrated decreased perception of stress level in the intervention group during their three 12-hour worked shifts. I am particularly proud of this
study (and the one by Pritchard mentioned above) as they are published studies
that were originally done for RJBA certification. Harris Methodist Medical Center,
where Pemberton and Pritchard both work, has sponsored six RJBA practitioner
courses (250 contact hours) during which more than 100 nurses and doctors have
learned clinical aromatherapy. At the time of writing, 28 nurse aromatherapists are
on staff. Other RJBA studies have looked at stress in nursing departments such as
nurse management and night staff and will be covered in the stress chapter.
Clinical aromatherapy has much to offer ICU patients as it reveals the softer,
more caring side of a hard, mechanistic world. In a place full of technical equipment, aromatherapy allows patients and nurses a chance to get in touch with their
feelings, to trust, and to communicate. Human beings often forget how to “be” as
they are programmed to “do.” The transition from “doing” to “being” can be challenging because in ICU patients (and often relatives) are forced to be. Aromatherapy allows both patient and nurse to share in the healing process: it enables patients
to feel better, as well as get better, and it allows nurses to do something pleasurable
for their patients. That is the essence of holistic care. Anxiety, pain, insomnia, and
stress are major areas where aromatherapy helps in a ICU. These have been covered
in separate chapters, so please refer to the index for more information. The remaining part of this chapter will address other areas in ICU where aromatherapy can be
Extubation is an alarming procedure for a patient who needs to be awake enough
to breathe without assistance, but sedated enough not to fight the endotracheal
tube. Tremendous trust is needed. Aromatherapy using the ‘M’ Technique can help
produce a deep level of trust in a very short period of time. Just because a patient
is intubated does not mean aromatherapy will have no effect. Components within
essential oils, such as linalyl acetate, can be absorbed through the skin much as
drugs like fentanyl, scopolamine and clonidine. During extubation, fear of oversedation can be a common cause of inadequate pain and anxiety relief. Aromatherapy
SECTION III | Aromatherapy in Clinical Specialties
has no side effects and can actually facilitate extubation by promoting relaxation,
decreasing anxiety, relieving pain, and promoting trust between patient and caregiver. After extubation, clearance of secretions can be greatly aided by the skilled use
of mucolytic essential oils, such as Eucalyptus globulus or Lavandula latifolia, which
can be inhaled by the patient. Mitchell, an ICU nurse (2002), found the use of the
‘M’ Technique and essential oils really helped the extubation process.
Mitchell, a nurse in critical care, found 2% Lavandula angustifolia given in a
hand ‘M’ Technique calmed a patient before extubation. The patient appeared
much calmer and less anxious than during previous attempts at extubation. Afterward the patient said she felt “able to trust” Mitchell and extubation was achieved.
I remember doing the hand ‘M’ Technique with some rose essential oils in the ICU
at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, New York, and watching the O2 saturations on
the monitor go up as the patient relaxed.
Hedayat (2008) reports on an intubated and ventilated child who was restless
despite sedation. The mother asked if she could give an aromatherapy massage to
her 18-month-old daughter. A 7.5% mixture of Roman chamomile, sandalwood,
and galbanum in jojoba oil was massaged on to the child’s legs, arms and chest,
every 8 hours by the mother. The child’s vital signs went from 96 to 166 bpm (beats
per minute) before the aromatherapy to 85 to 132 bpm after, and the Midazolam
infusion was reduced by 50% within 2 hours.
Henneman et al (2002) suggest a collaborative weaning plan for patients requiring prolonged mechanical ventilation, which draws on a multidisciplinary team.
Aromatherapy, using gentle touch, or just aroma, can be carried out by any member of the team.
Adding three or four drops of essential oils to a moistened face flannel can
greatly improve the mood of patients (and nursing staff). Geranium, sweet orange,
or mandarin are excellent choices as they can lift depression, reduce anxiety and
can hide some of unpleasant odors that are found in the ICU. For an antiseptic
sponge bath, use one of the essential oils in Table 13-2 and add geranium, lavender
or mandarin to enhance the smell. Spritzing the room with a solution of Eucalyptus
citriadora, Ravansara aromatica or Citrus limon will do much to improve the ambience as well as helping to cut down cross-infection and resistant organisms. Please
see Table 13-2 for other essential oils to use. There is no reason why ICUs should
not smell welcoming and pleasant, as well as being places where resistant pathogens
are no longer welcome.
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In the castle of my skin.
George Lamming, 1942
TABLE 14-1
TABLE 14-2
TABLE 14-3
TABLE 14-4
TABLE 14-5
TABLE 14-6
Published Research on Essential Oils and Acne, 272
Published Studies on Athlete’s Foot/Toenail Fungus, 274
Published Studies on Essential Oils/Components and Herpes, 277
Protocol for Using Essential Oils in Treating Herpes, 279
Published Studies on Wrinkles and Essential Oils, 280
R.J. Buckle Student Dermatology Studies, 280
ncreasingly, transdermal therapeutic systems (TTS) are used as an alternative
to oral and parenteral pharmaceuticals. The skin, and therefore the care of skin
(dermatology), has become an important part of new drug delivery (Aggarwal &
Aggarwal 2010). Some essential oils and the isolated components from essential
oils (such as nerolidol, limonene, cineole, pinene, and carvone) are used to enhance
drug delivery (Krishnaiah et al 2006; Krishnaiah et al 2008; Ahad et al 2011; Buckle
2010; Valgimigli et al 2012; Shen et al 2013). Essential oil components appear to
enhance drug absorption by interacting with the polar domain of the skin lipids
(Chen et al 2013). Some components, like carvone, can also reverse the permeation
enhancement effect, so that vital skin barrier function is restored and not permanently changed after the application of dermal enhancers (Kang et al 2007; Aggarwal et al 2012). Some components enhance the permeation of other components:
limonene enhances absorption of citronellol and eugenol (Schmitt et al 2009).
The skin is the largest organ of the body. It is also a stress barometer that provides the outside world with an indication of the serenity or confusion within. Much
of dermatology is concerned with putting topical drugs onto the skin. However,
skin problems may be linked to stress and diet (Chida et al 2007; Ro et al 2002).
­Possibly three of the most common skin conditions suitable for aromatherapy are
CHAPTER 14 | Dermatology
acne, herpes, and onychomycosis. With the increased drive for perpetual youth,
wrinkles seem a relevant issue to touch on in this chapter.
Acne vulgaris is a common dermatologic disorder that affects adolescents (more
boys than girls), but can occur at any age. Female acne is becoming more and more
common between the ages of 40 and 50 (Preneau & Dreno 2012). Approximately
45 million people in the United States have acne (Decker & Graber 2012). However, acne is common in many countries such as China (Shen 2012), Africa (Yahya
2009), India (Nikaliji et al 2012), and the United Kingdom (Ozolins et al 2005).
According to the medical dictionary (Brooker 2008 p 4), the “pilosebaceous
units are overstimulated by circulating androgens and the excessive sebum is
trapped by a plug of keratin. Acne is one of the top three reasons why people
seek a dermatologist (Decker & Graber 2012). Current conventional treatments
include systemic antibiotics, creams containing antibiotics such as clindamycin
phosphate and benzoyl peroxide, or laser to destroy the bacteria. In a study of 649
people aged 12 to 39, topical antimicrobial therapies performed at least as well as
oral antibiotics in terms of clinical efficacy. Benzoyl peroxide was the most costeffective and minocycline the least cost-effective therapy for facial acne (Ozolins
et al 2005). A 2012 Cochrane systemic review decided that minocycline was an
effective treatment for moderate severely acne vulgaris, but concluded there was
no evidence it was better than any other commonly used acne treatments (Garner
et al 2012).
Due to convenience, lower cost, and difficulty getting an appointment with a
dermatologist, the use of over-the-counter (OTC) acne treatments is increasing
(Decker & Graber 2012) and many people use both prescriptive and OTC medicines. There are five different kinds of OTC acne therapies: 1) cleansers, 2) leave-on
products, 3) mechanical treatments, 4) essential oils and 5) vitamins (this includes
retinol obtained from vitamin A) (Kligman & Gans 2000).
Acne is graded into four levels of severity: mild, moderate, severe and very severe
(Katsambas et al 2004). Mild acne usually includes comedones with a few mild
pustules. Moderate acne includes many comedones and pustules with a few small
nodules but no scarring. In severe acne there are many pustules and nodules with
marked inflammation and scarring. In very severe acne there are also sinus tracts
with many deeply located nodules. Propionibacterium acnes is the main bacterium
cited in acne vulgaris and many in vitro studies look at kill times against this bacteria (Viyoch et al 2006, Fu et al 2007, Lerysatitthanakorn et al 2010). Some studies
such as Gavini et al (2005) have investigated how to encapsulate an essential oil (in
this case juniper) inside a solid lipid microparticle (SLM) for longevity. However,
propionbacterium is a commensal that lives happily just below the surface of the
skin and keeps it healthy. It is only when the sebaceous glands become overactive that the pores can become blocked and cause propionbacterium to multiply.
Therefore, for essential oils to be effective against acne, they need to have antiseptic,
SECTION III | Aromatherapy in Clinical Specialties
TABLE 14-1 Published Research on Essential Oils and Acne
Essential Oil
Gavini et al
Viyoch et al
Fu et al
Kim et al
In vitro
In vitro
In vitro
In vitro
In vitro
Oh et al
Lertsatithanakorn et al
Matiz et al
In vitro
In vitro
Azimi et al
da Silva et al
Thymus quinquecostatus
Sweet orange
Sweet basil
antibacterial, antiinflammatory, citratrisant, keratolytic, and antiscarring properties. (Keratolytic agents help remove the hardened comedone.)
Many of the 11 studies listed in Table 14-1 are in vitro studies. Although an
in vitro study is a good starting point, it does not mean the essential oil (or component) will be effective (or that someone will want to use it) in a human study. What
is encouraging is the range of essential oils that have been tested. Of the human
studies, Matiz et al (2012) is worth mentioning. This was a controlled study on 28
volunteers with acne. Treatment was applied daily for 8 weeks. The essential oils
used were sweet orange (Citrus sinensis) and sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum). There
was a 43% to 75% in reduction of lesions. This was thought to be a result of their
joint antiseptic and keratolytic activity. Side effects (burning and redness) disappeared within a few minutes of applying the essential oils.
In another placebo-controlled study, a lesser-known essential oil (copaiba) from
Brazil was applied twice a day for 21 days in 1% gel to 10 volunteers with acne (da
Silva et al 2012). The placebo gel was applied similarly to other areas with acne, so
each volunteer acted as his or her own control. There was a significant reduction
in acne (P = 0.0001) where copaiba was applied. Copaiba is a resin from the diesel
tree (Copaifera langsdorffii). It is high in sesquiterpenes such as B caryophyllene and
bisabolene, and in diterpenes. Sesquiterpenes are traditionally thought to be antiinflammatory. The gels were weighed before and after the study to ensure compliance.
Minaglou (2006) gives an extremely helpful and informative overview of his
experience of treating acne with essential oils. This scholarly article is interesting
reading for anyone interested in this condition. The principles of Minaglou’s treatment are:
1)Use of keratolytic agents to help remove comedone plug
2)Antibacterial essential oils
CHAPTER 14 | Dermatology
3)Reduction and control of excessive sebum
4)Antiinflammatory essential oils
5)Tissue support for regeneration (antioxidant essential oils)
Athlete’s foot (tinea pedis) is the most common form of superficial dermatophyte
infection in the developed world and infects approximately 70% of adults (Pau et al
2010, Peréz-González 2009, Watanabe 2010). It is more common in adults aged 15
to 40 years and in men rather than women (Skerlev & Miklic 2010). Onychomycosis (sometimes called tinea unguium) is a fungal infection that destroys the entire
nail unit. It is a cousin of tinea pedis, which causes athlete’s foot (fungal infection
between the toes). Onychomycosis is less contagious than athlete’s foot, but when
contracted, it is extremely difficult to remove completely (Walling et al 2009). Symptoms are a thickened nail that becomes discolored, brittle, or chalky and ultimately
disintegrates. Medical treatment is topical or systemic antifungals (Table 14-2).
Tinea pedis can be treated with topical or systemic prescription drugs such as
griseofulvin, itraconazole, ketoconazole and terbinafine, however, these carry the
possibility of adverse reactions such as diarrhea. There are many OTC treatments
available in creams, powders, and gels. Unfortunately, many toenail infections and
athlete’s foot infections recur. It is worth trying antifungal essential oils. The added
bonus is that are most are safe to use topically on children under 12 years, unlike
some OTC products.
Buck et al (1994) carried out one of the earliest multicentered, double-blind,
randomized and controlled studies on onychomycosis that compared Melaleuca
alternifolia (tea tree) to clotrimazole. One-hundred seventeen patients with onychomycosis under the toenail (proven by culture) took part in the study. Patients
received either twice-daily applications of clotrimazole solution or 100% tea tree.
Debridement took place at 0, 1, 3, and 6 months. Topical use of tea tree produced a
similar result to oral doses of clotrimazole, with 55% of the clotrimazole group and
56% of the tea tree group reporting improvement or resolution after 3 months. The
number of adverse reactions was similar: three out of 53 for the clotrimazole group
and five out of 64 in the tea tree group.
Four years later, Syed et al (1999) carried out a randomized, double-blind,
placebo-controlled study to examine the clinical efficacy and tolerability of 5%
Melaleuca alternifolia with 2% butenafine hydrochloride incorporated in a cream.
Sixty patients took part in the study. There were 39 men and 21 women, and the
average age was 29 years. Each participant had a history of onychomycosis for 6
to 36 months. After using the cream for 16 weeks, 80% of the participants in the
experimental group were cured. No participant was cured in the placebo group.
Four participants in the experimental group experienced mild inflammation but
did not discontinue treatment. During follow-up, no relapse occurred in the cured
patients, and no improvement was seen in the medication-resistant and placebo
SECTION III | Aromatherapy in Clinical Specialties
TABLE 14-2 Published Studies on Athlete’s Foot/Toenail Fungus
Essential Oil
Buck et al
Syed et al
Gayoso et al
In vitro
Satchell et al
Inouye et al
In vitro vapor
Inouye et al
In vitro vapor
Inouye et al
In vitro using
salt bath
Tea tree
Tea tree
Eugenia cariophyllata
1%, 4%
Tea tree 25%, 50%
Tea tree
Tea tree
Palma rosa
Tea tree
Tinea pedis
Satchell et al (2002) conducted a randomized, placebo-controlled study on 158
patients with interdigital athlete’s foot (tinea pedis) using 25% and 50% tea tree
essential oil. Patients applied tea tree twice a day to the affected areas for 4 weeks
and were reviewed after 2 and 4 weeks of treatment. There was a marked clinical
response seen in 68% of the 50% tea tree oil group and 72% of the 25% tea tree oil
group, compared to 39% in the placebo group. Interestingly, the lower percentage
appeared to be more successful. However, the mycological cure rate was 64% in the
50% tea tree oil group, compared to 31% in the placebo group.
An RJBA student, Elsethager (2000), investigated the combined effect of two
essential oils (lemongrass and tea tree) on 12 study participants who had onychomycosis for a minimum duration of 1 year. One participant had it for more than 10
years. Participants rubbed a mixture of 2% tea tree and 3% lemongrass in grapeseed
CHAPTER 14 | Dermatology
oil into the affected nail bed twice a day for 2 months. Only four people continued treatment for the whole 2 months. All participants said their nails were less
discolored and cracked. Two of the four had previously used OTC medications
(Tinactin and Dr. Scholl’s) with no success. One of the four participants had been
offered an oral course of griseofulvin, which she had declined because she was concerned about the side effects. Garg and Dengre (1988) found Cymbopogon citratus
(West Indian lemongrass) effective against Trichophyton mentagrophytes. The most
active component of lemongrass was citral (70% to 80%), which is thought to be
responsible for the antifungal activity of this plant. Lippia alba, which grows widely
in Central and South America, also has strong antifungal activity against Trichophyton mentagrophyes var. interdigitale. Several chemotypes of the plant exist, and
the essential oil from the plant grown in Aruba is thought to be most suitable as it
contains 64% citral (Fun & Svendsen 1990).
Even at the low concentrations, several essential oils can show very significant
antimycotic activity against Trichophyton mentagrophytes (Rai & Mares 2003). Sahi
et al (1999) compared Eucalyptus citriadora with commercial antifungal drugs and
found minimal concentration of the oil completely inhibited all the tested pathogens
(Microsporum nanum, Trichophyton mentagrophytes, and Trichophyton rubrum).
Eucalyptus citriadora contains up to 80% citronellal—an aldehyde. Romagna et al
(1994) reported the antifungal effects of alpha-terthienyl from Tagetes patula on
five dermatophytes. Rai and Acharya (1999) found Tagetes erecta, T. patula, and
Eupatorium triplinerve to be an effective topical antimycotic.
A Japanese research team led by Professor Inouye conducted several studies.
The 2001 study explored the effects of essential oil vapor in a closed airtight box
and found that citron oil (Citron medica) showed the greatest Minimum Inhibitory Dose (MID) and interestingly it was 320 times greater than cinnamon bark
essential oil. The citron fruit is different to the lemon and comprises mainly a very
thick, white rind. Lemongrass, thyme, and perilla essential oils killed the fungus and
prevented germination at lower concentrations in the air than lavender. Thyme and
perilla essential oil vapors were also effective in vivo (in guinea pigs infected with
T. mentagrophytes).
Five years later Inouye et al (2006) published a study using other essential oils—
again in a closed airtight box. This time oregano, perilla, tea tree, clove, lavender, and
geranium were tested against Trichophyton mentagrophytes. The results were interesting as tea tree was the least effective of the essential oils. Although the vapor of the
essential oils had a marked effect on the fungus after 3 hours, it needed 15 hours of
exposure before irreversible damage was done. A year later, Inouye et al (2007) published their work on 11 essential oils in a heated footbath (with or without added
salt). This was also an in vitro study. Agar blocks implanted with T. mentagrophytes
were immersed in 0.1% aqueous agar that contained essential oils at various temperatures for 10 and 20 minutes. The results showed the fungicidal activity of the
11 essential oils in order of effectiveness was oregano, thyme CT thymol, cinnamon
bark, lemongrass, clove, palmarose, peppermint, lavender, geranium, tea tree, and
thyme CT geraniol. Again, tea tree is near the bottom for effectiveness.
SECTION III | Aromatherapy in Clinical Specialties
Moericke (2005), an RJBA student, conducted a study on 10 participants with
toenail fungal infection. She used undiluted tea tree applied to the nail bed and
under the nail twice a day for 6 months and found it either removed or very substantially reduced toenail fungal infection. Outcome measures were photographs.
Some participants had had toenail fungal infections for 20 years. During this study,
participants were asked to fumigate their shoes with tea tree inserted into the shoes
(while the shoes were in double plastic bags) overnight to remove spores. Clearly
more studies are needed, perhaps using a combination of essential oils and a generous percentage and not forgetting to fumigate the shoes of participants so the
spores do not reinfect their feet.
Cases of herpes simplex Type 1 (HSV-1) and Type 2 (HSV-2) reached epidemic
proportions in the 1980s. Initially, HSV-1 was thought to only affect the mouth
(cold sores) and that HSV-2 caused genital herpes. However, now it is recognized
that HSV-1 can also cause genital herpes (Wald et al 2006, Garceau et al 2012).
Herpes is prevalent worldwide (Leroux-Roels 2013). HSV-2 is one of the most
common sexually transmitted infections in the world and the primary cause of
genital and neonatal herpes and genital ulcer disease (Center for Disease Control USA 2010). The World Health Organization found that globally 314 million
women and 220 million men had HSV-2 (Looker et al 2008). It is possible to have
herpes and be asymptomatic, but this does not stop transmission of the virus to
another person (Tronstein et al 2011). HSV-2 antibody tests are now commercially
available. Attempts to create a vaccine have not yet been successful (Coleman &
Shukler 2013).
HSV-1 and HSV-2 infect and replicate in cells at the site of entry. The painful blister(s) reappear, usually in the same area, with agonizing regularity and the
patient is infected for life (Schnitzler et al 2008). Outbreaks can be triggered by
sexual activity, stress, heat, hormonal changes (so attacks are often linked to the
menstrual cycle), diet, and low immunity. The blisters can occur in the genital area
(either internally or externally) and may also be found on the thighs and buttocks.
Extremely contagious at the blister stage, herpes can remain dormant for months
or years in the spinal cord, ready to migrate down the sensory nerves to the skin.
Orthodox treatment for herpes is with nucleoside analogues, such as acyclovir (ACV) and penciclovir (PCV) with their respective prodrugs valaciclovir and
famciclovir that introduce intracellular impediment to viral replication (Vadlapudi
et al 2013). These medications are taken orally (although they can be given intravenously or topically) and often leave a metal-like after taste. Some HSV drugs are
associated with toxicities that limit their use. Though effective, long-term use has
led to drug-resistant viral isolates (Andrei et al 2013).
Essential oils found effective against herpes in research are shown in Table 14-3.
Fifteen published studies used essential oils on HSV-1 and seven on HSV-2. They
were all in vitro. Some of the studies looked at both HSV-1 and HSV-2. Fourteen
CHAPTER 14 | Dermatology
TABLE 14-3 Published Studies on Essential Oils/Components and Herpes
Essential Oil
Herpes Type
Zolfaghari et al
Armaka et al
Benencia &
Schnitzler et al
In vitro
In vitro
Myrtle 10%
In vitro
HSV-1, HSV-2
Minami et al
In vitro
Sinico et al
In vitro
Tragoolpua &
Saddi et al
In vitro
In vitro
Schnitzler et al
In vitro
Loizzo et al
Koch et al
In vitro
In vitro
Schnitzler et al
Garozzo et al
In vitro
In vitro
Tea tree
Artemesia arborenscens
Eugenia caryophyllus
Tree wormwood:
Artemesia arborescens
Cedrus libani
Dwarf pine
Melissa officinalis
Tea tree
Astani et al
In vitro
Astani et al
Lai et al
In vitro
In vitro
Astani et al
Orhan et al
In vitro
In vitro
Tea tree
Star anise
Melissa officinalis
HSV-1, HSV-2
HSV-1, HSV-2
HSV-1, HSV-2
Not effective HSV-1
or HSV-2
HSV-1, HSV-2
HSV-1, HSV-2
SECTION III | Aromatherapy in Clinical Specialties
studies found certain essential oils were very successful against HSV-1. Interestingly, Garozzo et al (2009) found the major components in tea tree were not effective when used on their own, and the whole essential oil was only slightly effective
(0.125%v/v). However, a German study (Astani et al 2010) found the major components of tea tree (and the whole essential oil) reduced viral infectivity of HSV-1 by
>80% and >96% respectively. This agrees with a previous German study (Schnitzler
et al 2001). Astani found essential oils of eucalyptus, tea tree and thyme (as well as
their major monoterpene compounds: alpha-terpinene, gamma-terpinene, alphapinene, p-cymene, terpinen-4-ol, alpha-terpineol, thymol, citral and 1,8-cineole)
were able to reduce viral infectivity. Aastani also states that mixtures of different
components present in natural tea tree showed a 10 times higher selectivity index
and lower toxicity than isolated components. Clearly, synergy plays a key role in aromatherapy and will be discussed more in the chapter on evolutionary pharmacology.
20 years ago, Wolbling and Leonhardt (1994) conducted a randomized, controlled, multicentered study on 115 patients and found the aqueous extract of
Melissa was effective in treating herpes. On the final day (fifth day) of treatment,
24 patients in the Melissa group were symptom free versus 15 symptom-free
patients in the placebo control group. Scabbing and swelling were more reduced
in the Melissa group, indicating reduced cell damage and accelerated healing. The
method of treatment was a proprietary-brand cream (Lomaherpan) that contains
1% Melissa extract. The control was an identical cream base without Melissa. The
site of the herpes treated was the lips in 34 in the Melissa group and 33 in the control
group and on the genitals in four in the Melissa group and six in the control group.
A subgroup of 67 patients tested positive for herpes labialis (Type 2, on the lips).
The decline of the lesions remained statistically faster in the Melissa group than the
placebo group.
Five years later, a second study also found 1% Melissa aqueous extract effective
at treating recurring herpes labialis (Koytchev et al 1999). This was a double-blind,
placebo-controlled, randomized trial on 66 patients who had a history of four episodes of herpes labialis per year. The Melissa cream was applied four times a day.
There was significant reduction in size of affected area and blisters at day two in the
Melissa group and a rapid ameliorating effect on typical symptoms, reduction in
healing time, and prolonged periods between occurrences.
Both these studies used an aqueous extract. This is not the same as an essential
oil. I have found essential oil of Melissa effective both against HSV-1 and HSV-2.
However, because Melissa is so expensive (and frequently adulterated with synthetics, lemongrass, or citronella that may have a worsening effect on abraded lesions)
it was pertinent to try other essential oils.
It is surprising there is little in the literature on ravansara or ravintsara. I have
found both these essential oils have excellent results on HSV-1 and HSV-2. There
has been much confusion between the taxonomy of these two essential oils over the
last 10 years (Behra 2001, Juliani et al 2005, Juliani et al 2006, Andrianoelisoa et al
2008). However, despite the difference in chemistry, both are excellent for HSV-1
and HSV-2. Ravansara aromatica is sometimes confused with Ravansara anisata
CHAPTER 14 | Dermatology
TABLE 14-4 Protocol for Using Essential Oils in Treating Herpes
Topical Application
Redness and swelling
Pustule formation
Broken pustule, raw skin
Raw skin
Undiluted essential oil
Undiluted essential oil
Undiluted essential oil
25% diluted essential oil*
5% diluted essential oil
Every hour
Every 2 hours
Every 2 hours
Every 4 hours
Every 4 hours
*Dilute in a cold-pressed vegetable oil, like sweet almond or olive oil, or in aloe vera gel.
or Cinnamomum camphora, ct cineole (commonly known as ravintsara). Ravansara aromatica and Ravansara anisata are essential oils from the same tree: the leaf
produces Ravansara aromatica and the bark produces Ravansara anisata. The only
way to be absolutely sure of what you have is to check the smell and the chemistry.
Ravansara aromatica: leaves contains up to 6% 1,8 cineole and it smells similar to
rosemary or eucalyptus, but softer and sweeter. If the essential oil smells like licorice
you have Ravansara anisata: This contains two phenolic ethers, methyl chavicol
(estragole) and anethole that give the licorice smell (Theron et al 1994). Essential
oil of ravintsara is obtained from the leaves of Cinnamomum camphora and was
introduced to Madagascar from Taiwan as an ornamental tree. Ravintsara (Cinnamomum camphora) has often been misreported and traded as Ravansara aromatica
(Juliani et al 2005). It has a strong eucalyptus smell and identification is possible
through spectroscopy (Juliani et al 2006) and contains up to 60% cineole.
Twenty years of clinical experience has confirmed that ravansara or ravintsara
applied to the area when the tingling begins can actually prevent herpes blisters
from forming. And, when the essential oil is applied directly to the blisters, the pain
and itching are greatly relieved. Severity, duration, and frequency of herpes outbreaks have decreased substantially with their use. For instance, monthly breakouts
have been reduced to once a year. Outbreaks that lasted 10 days have been reduced
to 3 days. Severity has gone from an 8 (0 to 10 scale) to a 4. A suggested protocol for
application is shown in Table 14-4.
Each person will have his or her own individual response to a particular essential oil, or mix of oils. The reason the essential oils work is because they are lipophyllic and appear to dissolve the lipid capsule (or capsid) of the virus. There are also
some excellent aromatherapy products available for herpes that contain a mixture
of essential oils such as Oil of Mercy available from http://www.oilofmercy.com.
In a world obsessed with staying young, the removal or reduction of wrinkles has
become part of dermatology. Some RJBA student studies attempted to measure
the effects of diluted essential oils on the skin (Tables 14-5 and 14-6). Several used
one half of the face as a control. Kunz (2000) used 4% frankincense in evening
SECTION III | Aromatherapy in Clinical Specialties
TABLE 14-5 Published Studies on Wrinkles and Essential Oils
Essential Oil
Tsukahara et al
Calabrese et al
Jung et al
Pedretti et al
Rat/mouse skin
In vitro
Patent application
Zingiber officinalis (extract)
Camellia japonica
Commiphora wightii
Boswellia serrata
TABLE 14-6 R.J. Buckle Student Dermatology Studies
Number Essential Oil
Tea tree
Tea tree
Tea tree
Sandalwood/tea tree/
Tea tree
Lemongrass/tea tree
Spider veins
Spider veins
Varicose veins
Varicose veins
and geranium/myrrh
Frankincense or lavender
German chamomile
Helichrysum, geranium,
cypress, sandalwood and
ylang ylang
Cypress, patchouli
primrose carrier oil on one side of the face of 12 women every evening for 30 consecutive nights. The side to which the frankincense was applied appeared to have
fewer wrinkles. Andreski (2003) diluted her 4% frankincense in aloe vera on 10
women but found there was little difference (this was thought to be the effect of
aloe). Schoenengerger (2005) used a 5% mixture of essential oils that contained
CHAPTER 14 | Dermatology
frankincense, geranium, myrrh and lavender in jojoba oil every evening and morning for 30 consecutive days. This study (n = 20) had a separate control group. All
10 of the aromatherapy group felt their wrinkles were improved. Only three of the
control group (jojoba only) thought their wrinkles were improved. Corcoran (2005)
used 4% frankincense in evening primrose on the left eye wrinkles only. Outcome
measures were photographs that were scrutinized by a former Estee Lauder skin
specialist who was blinded to who had a greater reduction than the wrinkles treated
with evening primrose only. It was good to have an expert opinion, as photographs
can be hard to judge without specialized cameras and lighting.
Finally, here are two articles that might be of interest. Christian Dior registered a
patent (U.S. patent number: 6630177) in 2003 for the use of novel constituents discovered in Commiphora (Myrrh species) particularly Commiphora wightii (Almada
2004). An Italian randomized split-face controlled study by Perdretti et al (2009)
explored the effects of Boswellia seratta. In the study, 15 women with sun damaged
skin used a cream containing a 0.5% Indian frankincense gum resin extract from
Boswellia serrata once a day for 30 days. They had reduced wrinkles compared to
Aggarwal S, Aggarwal A. 2010. Randomized, cross-over, comparative bioavailability trial of matrix type
transdermal delivery system (TDS) of carvedilol and hydrochlorothiozide in healthy, human volunteers: a pilot study. Contem Clin Trials. 34(4):272-8.
Aggarwal G, Dhawan S, HariKumar S. 2012. Natural oils as skin permeation enhancers for transdermal
delivery of olanzipine: in vitro and in vivo evaluation. Curr Drug Deliv. 9(2):172-81.
Ahad A, Aqil M, Kohli K, Sultana Y, Mujeeb M, Ali A. 2011. Interactions between novel terpenes and
main components of rat and human skin: mechanistic view for transdermal delivery of propranolol
hydrochloride. Curr Drug Deliv. 8(2):213-24.
Alexander L. 2001. Teatree for various skin conditions. Unpublished dissertation for RJ Buckle
Almada A. 2004. Gum guggul extract as an anti-wrinkle agent. HerbalGram: 61;36.
Andrei G, Georgala A, Topalis D, Fiton P, Aoun N et al. 2013. Heterogeneity and Evolution of Thymidine Kinase and DNA Polymerase Mutants of Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1: Implications for Antiviral Therapy. J Infect Dis. Feb 1. [Epub ahead of print]. Accessed 7/3/2013.
Andrianoelisoa H, Menut C, de Chatelperron P, Saracco et al. 2008. Intraspecific chemical variability
and highlighting of chemotypes of leaf essential oils from Ravansara aromatica Sonnerat, a tree endemic to Madagascar. Flav Frag Journal. 21(5):833-838.
Armaka M, Papanikolaou E, Sivropoulou A et al. 1999. Antiviral properties of isoborneol, a potent inhibitor of herpes simples virus type 1. Antiviral Research. 43(2):79-92.
Astani A, Reichling J, Schnitzler P. 2010. Comparative study on the antiviral activity of selected monoterpenes derived from essential oils. Phytotherapy Res. 24(5):673-9.
Astani A, Reichling J, Schnitzler P. 2011. Screening for antiviral activities of isolated compounds from
essential oils. Evid Based Complement Alternat. 2011, 2011:253643. Accessed 7/2/2013.
Astani A, Reichling J, Schnitzler P. 2012. Melissa officinalis extract inhibits attachment of herpes simplex
virus in vitro. Chemotherapy. 58(1):70-7.
Azimi H, Fallah-Tafti M, Khakshur A, Abdollahi M. 2012. A review of phytotherapy of acne vulgaris:
Perspective of new pharmacological treatments. Fitoterapia. 83(8):1306-17.
Baker L. 2001. Teatree for teenage acne. Unpublished dissertation for RJ Buckle Associates.
Behra O. 2001. Ravintsara v Ravansara: a Taxonomic Clarification. Int J Arom. 11(1):5-7.
SECTION III | Aromatherapy in Clinical Specialties
Benencia F, Courreges M. 2000. In vitro and in vivo activity of eugenol on human herpes virus. Phytotherapy Res. 14:495-500.
Brooker C. 2008. The Medical Dictionary, 16th edition. Churchill Livingstone.
Bochte S. 2007. Frankincense versus lavender for wrinkles. Unpublished dissertation for RJ Buckle Associates.
Buck D, Nidorf D, Addino J. 1994. Comparison of two topical preparations for the treatment of onychomycosis: Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) oil and clotrimazole. J Fam Prac. 38(6):601-605.
Buckle J. 2010. Aromatherapy: is there a role for essential oils in current and future healthcare? Bulletin
Technique Foundation Gattefosse, France. 95-101.
Calabrese V, Scapagnini G, Catalano C, Dinotta F, Geraci D, Morganti P. 2000. Biochemical studies of a
natural antioxidant isolated from rosemary and its application in cosmetic dermatology. Int J Tissue
React. 22(1):5-13.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 2010. Seroprevalence of herpes simplex virus type
2 among persons aged 14-49 years—United States, 2005-2008. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep.
Chen Y, Wang J, Cun D, Wang M, Jiang J et al. 2013. Effect of unsaturated menthol analogues on the
in vitro penetration of 5-fluorouracil through rat skin. Int J Pharm. A 16;443(1-2).
Chida Y, Steptoe A, Hirakawa N, Sudo N, Kubo C. 2007. The effects of psychological intervention on
atopic dermatitis. A systematic review and meta-analysis. Int Arch Allergy Immunol. 144(1):1-9.
Coleman J, Shukler D. 2013. Recent advances in vaccine development for herpes simplex virus types I
and II. Hum Vaccin Immunother. 26;9(4). Accessed ahead of print. 7/3/2013.
Corcoran W. 2005. Frankincense for wrinkles. Unpublished RJBA Dissertation.
da Silva A, Puziol P de F, Leitao R, Gomes T, Scherer R, et al. 2012. Application of the essential oil
from copaiba (Copaifera langsdori) for acne vulgaris: a double-blind, placebo controlled clinical trial.
Altern Med Rev. 17(1):69-75.
Decker A, Graber EM. 2012. Over-the-counter Acne Treatments: A Review. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol.
5(5): 32-40.
Drach W. 2005. Sandalwood, teatree and lavender for acne. Unpublished dissertation for RJ Buckle
Elsethager T. 2001. The use of lemongrass and tea tree for fungal infections of feet and nails. Unpublished RJBA dissertation.
Fu Y, Zu Y, Chen L, Efferth T, Liang H et al. 2007. Investigation of antibacterial activity of rosemary essential oil against propionibacterium acnes with atomic force microscopy. Planta Medica.
Fun C, Svendsen A. 1990. The essential oils of Lippia alba. J Ess Oil Res. 2(5) 265-267.
Garbin C. 2002. Geranium for varicose veins. Unpublished dissertation for RJ Buckle Associates.
Garceau R, Leblanc D, Thibault L, Girouard G, Mallet M. 2012. Herpes simplex virus type 1 is the leading cause of genital herpes in New Brunswick. Can J Infect Dis Med Microbiol. 23(1):15-8.
Garg S, Dengre S. 1988. Antifungal activity of some essential oils. Pharmacie. 43(2) 141-142.
Garner S, Eady A, Bennett C, Newton J, Thomas K, Popescu C. 2012. Minocycline for acne vulgaris:
efficacy and safety. Cochrane Database Syst Rev.15; 8:CD002086.
Garozzo A, Timpanaro R, Bisignano B, Furneri P, Bisignano G, Castro A. 2009. In vitro antiviral activity
of Melaleuca alternifolia essential oil. Lett App Microbiol. 49(6):806-808.
Gavini E, Sanna V, Sharma R, Juliano C, Usai M et al. 2005. Solid lipid microparticles (SLM) containing
juniper oil as anti-acne topical carriers: preliminary studies. Pharm Dev Technol. 10(4):479-87.
Gayoso C, Lima E, Oliviera V, Pereira F, Souza E et al. 2005. Sensitivity of fungi isolated from onychomycosis to Eugenia cariophyllata essential oil and eugenol. Fitoterapia. 76(2):247-9.
Inouye S, Uchida K, Yamaguchi H. 2001. In-vitro and in-vivo anti-Trichophyton activity of essential oils
by vapour contact. Mycoses. 44(3-4):99-107.
Inouye S, Nishiyama Y, Uchida K, Hasumi Y, Yamaguchi H, Abe S. 2006. The vapor activity of oregano,
perilla, tea tree, lavender, clove, and geranium oils against a Trichophyton mentagrophytes in a closed
box. J Infect Chemother. 12(6):349-54.
CHAPTER 14 | Dermatology
Inouye S, Uchida K, Nishiyama Y, Hasumi Y, Yamaguchi H, Abe S. 2007. Combined effect of heat, essential oils and salt on fungicidal activity against Tricophyton mentagrophytes in a foot bath. Nihon
Ishinkin Gakkai Zasshi. 48(1):27-36.
Juliani H, Behra O, Moharram H, Ranarivelo L, Ralijerson B, Andriantsiferana M et al. 2005. Searching
for the real ravansara (Ravansara aromatica Sonn.) essential oil: a case study for Natiora: the Malagasy
natural product label. Perf Flavor 30, 60-65.
Juliani H, Kapteyn J, Jones D, Koroch A, Wang M, Carles D, Simon J. 2006. Application of near-infrared
spectroscopy in quality control and determination of adulteration of African essential oils. Pytochem
Anal. 17:121-128.
Jung E, Kim S, Hur S, Park D, Koh J et al. 2007. Effect of Camillia japonica on human type 1 procollagen
production and skin barrier function. J Ethnopharm. 112(1):127-131.
Kang L, Poh A, Fan S, Ho P, Chan Y, Chan S. 2007. Reversible effects of permeation enhancers on human
skin. Eur J Pharm Biopharm. 67(1):149-55.
Katsambas A, Stefanaki C, Cunliffe W. 2004. Guidelines for treating acne. Clin Dermatol. 22(5):439-44.
Kinkela J. 2008. German chamomile for psoriasis. Unpublished dissertation for RJ Buckle Associates.
Kim S, Baik J, Oh T, Yoon W, Lee N, Hyun C. 2008. Biological activities of Korean Citrus obovoides and
Citrus natsudaidai essential oils against acne-inducing bacteria. Biosci, Biotech Biochem. 72(10):2507-13.
Kligman L, Gans E. 2000. Re-emergence of topical retinol in dermatology. J Dermatol Treat. 11:47-52.
Koch C, Reichling J, Kehm R, Sharaf M, Zentgraf H, Schneele J, Schnitzler P. 2008a. Efficacy of anise oil,
dwarf-pine oil and chamomile oil against thymidine-kinase-positive and thymidine-kinase-negative
herpes viruses. J Pharm Pharmacol. 60(11):1545-50.
Koch C, Reichling J, Schneele J, Schnitzler P. 2008b. Inhibitory effect of essential oils against herpes
simplex virus type 2. Phytomedicine. 15(1-2):71-8.
Koytchev R, Alken R, Dundarov S. 1999. Balm mint extract (Lo-701) for topical treatment for recurring
herpes labialis. Phytomedicine. 6(4):225–230.
Krishnaiah Y, Al-Saidan S, Jayaram B. 2006. Effect of nerodilol, carvone and anethole on the in vitro
transdermal delivery of selegiline hydrochloride. Pharmazie. 61(1):46-53.
Krishnaiah Y, Raju V, Shiva Kumar M, Rama B, Raghumurthy V, Ramana Murthy K. 2008. Studies on
optimizing in vitro transdermal permeation of ondansetron hydrochloride using nerodiol, carvone
and limonene as penetration enhances. Pharm Dev Technol. 13(3):177-85.
Kunz J. 2003. Frankincense for wrinkles. Unpubellished RJBA dissertation.
Lai W, Chuang H, Lee M, Wei C, Lin C, Tsai Y. 2012. Inhibition of herpes simplex virus type 1 by
thymol-related monoterpenoids. Planta Medica. 78(15):1636-8.
Leroux-Roels G, Clement F, Vandepapeliere P, Fourneau M, Heineman T, Dubin G. 2013. Immunogenicity and safety of different formulations of an adjuvanted glycoprotein D genital herpes vaccine
in healthy adults: A double-blind randomized trial. Human Vaccin Immunother 22(9):6. Accessed
4/3/2013. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23434737.
Lertsatitthanakorn P, Aromdee C, Khunkitti W, Taweechaisupapong S, Arunyanart C. 2010. Effect of
Citronella Oil on Time Kill Profile, Leakage and Morphological Changes of Propionibacterium acne.
J Ess Oil Res. 22(3):270-274.
Lertsatitthanakorn S, Taweechaisupapong S, Aromdee C, Khunkitti W. 2006. In vitro bioactivities of
essential oils used for acne control. Int J Aromatherapy. 16(1):43-49.
Loizzo M, Saab A, Tundis R, Statti G, Lampronti I et al. 2008. Phytochemical analysis and in vitro evaluation of the biological activity against herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) of Cedrus libani. Phytomedicine. 15(1-2):79-83.
Looker K, Garnett G, Schmid G. 2008. An estimate of the global prevalence of herpes simplex virus type
2 infection. Bull World Health Org. 86(10):805-812.
Matiz G, Osorio M, Camacho F, Atencia M, Herazo J. 2012. Effectiveness of antimicrobial formulations
for acne based on orange (Citrus sinensis) and sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum L) essential oils. Biomédica: Revista Del Instituto Nacional De Salud. 32(1): 125-33.
May C. 2000. Helichrysum and angelica topically applied for adolescent acne. Unpublished dissertation
for RJ Buckle Associates.
SECTION III | Aromatherapy in Clinical Specialties
Minaglou F. 2006. The use of phyto-aromatherapy in the treatment of non-severe acne vulgaris. Int J
Clin Aroma. 3(1):3-8.
Minami M, Kita M, Nakaya T, Yamamoto T, Kuriyama H, Imanishi J. 2003. The inhibitory effect of
essential oils on herpes simplex virus type-1 replication in vitro. Microbiol Immunol. 47(9):681-4.
Moericke B. 2005. Unpublished RJBA Dissertation. Tea tree for toenail fungal infection.
Nikalji N, Godse K, Sakhiya J, Patil S, Nadkarni N. 2012 Complications of medium depth and deep
chemical peels. J Cutan Aesthet Surg. 5(4):254-60.
Oh T, Kim S, Yoon W, Kim J, Yang E, Lee N, Hyun C. 2009. Chemical composition and biological activities of Jeju Thymus quinquecostatus essential oils against Propionibacterium species inducing acne.
J Gen Appl Microbiol. 55(1):63-8.
Orhan İ, Erdoğan Ö, Berrin K, Murat K. 2012. Antimicrobial and antiviral effects of essential oils from
selected Umbelliferae and Labiatae plants and individual essential oil components. Turkish J Biol.
Ozolins M, Eady E, Avery A, Cunliffe W, O’Neill C et al. 2005. Randomised controlled multiple treatment comparison to provide a cost-effectiveness rationale for the selection of antimicrobial therapy
in acne. Health Technol Assess. 9(1):iii-212.
Pau M, Atzori L, Aste N, et al. 2010. Epidemiology of tinea pedis in Cagliari, Italy. G Ital Dermatol Venereol. 145:1-5.
Pedretti A, Capezzera R, Zane C, Facchinetti E, Calzavara-Pinton P. 2009. Effects of topical boswellic
acid on photo and age-damaged skin: clinical, biophysical, and echographic evaluations in a doubleblind, randomized, split-face study. Planta Med. 76(6):555-60.
Peréz-Gonzáles M, Torres-Rodriguez J, Martines-Roig A, Segura S, Griera G. 2009. Prevalence of tinea
pedis, tinea unguium of toenails and tinea capitis in school children from Barcelona. Rev Iberoam
Micol. 26(4): 228-32.
Preneau S, Dreno B. 2012. Female acne - a different subtype of teenager acne? J Eur Acad Dermatol
Venereol. 26(3):277-82.
Rai M, Acharya D, 1999. Screening of some Asteraceae plants for antimycotic activity. Compositae
Newletter. 34:37-43.
Rai M, Mares M (Eds.) 2003. Plant Derived Antimycotics. Binghamton, NY: Haworth.
Ream J. 2008. Helichrysum, geranium, cypress, sandalwood and ylang ylang for spider veins. Unpublished dissertation for RJ Buckle Associates.
Ro Y, Ha H, Kim C, Yeom H. 2002. The effects of aromatherapy on pruritus in patients undergoing
hemodialysis. DermatolNurs. 14(4): 231-4, 237-9, 256.
Rollo P. 2001. Cypress and patchouli for varicose veins. Unpublished dissertation for RJ Buckle Associates.
Romagna C, Mares D, Fasulo M et al. 1994. Antifungal effects of alpha-terthienyl from Tagetes patula on
five dermatophytes. Phyto Res. 8(6):332-336.
Saddi M, Sanna A, Cottiglia F, Chisu L, Casu L et al. 2007. Antiherpevirus activity of Artemisia arborescens essential oil and inhibition of lateral diffusion in Vero cells. Ann Clin Microbiol Antimicrob.
Sahi S, Shukla A, Bajaj A et al. 1999. Broad spectrum antimycotic drug for the control of fungal infections in human beings. Curr Sci. 76(6):836-939.
Satchell A, Sauragen A, Bell C, Barnetson R. 2002. Treatment of interdigital tinea pedis with 25% and
50% tea tree oil solution: a randomized, placebo-controlled, blinded study. Australas J Dermatol.
Schmitt S, Schaefer U, Doebler L, Reichling J. 2009. Cooperative interaction of monoterpenes and phenylpropanoids on the in vitro human skin permeation of complex composed essential oils. Planta Med.
Schnitzler P, Schön K, Reichling J. 2001. Antiviral activity of Australian tea tree oil and eucalyptus oil
against herpes simplex virus in cell culture. Die Pharmazie [Pharmazie]. 56(4):343-7.
Schnitzler P, Koch C, Reichling J. 2007. Susceptibility of drug-resistant clinical herpes simplex virus type
1 strains to essential oils of ginger, thyme, hyssop, and sandalwood. Antimicrob Agents Chemother.
CHAPTER 14 | Dermatology
Schnitzler P, Schuhmacher A, Astani A, Reichling J. 2008. Melissa officinalis oil affects infectivity of
enveloped herpesviruses. Phytomed. 15(9):734-40.
Schoenengerger R. 2005. RJBA Dissertation. Essential oil mix for wrinkles.
Scott K. 2010. Teatree for acne. Unpublished dissertation for RJ Buckle Associates.
Shen Y, Wang T, Zhou C, Wang X, Ding X et al. 2012. Prevalence of acne vulgaris in Chinese adolescents
and adults: a community-based study of 17,345 subjects in six cities. Acta Derm Venereol. 92(1):40-4.
Shen T, Zu H, Went W, Zhang J. 2013. Development of a reservoir-type transdermal delivery system
containing eucalyptus oil for tetramethylpyrazine. Drug Del. 20(1):19-24.
Sinico C, De Logu A, Lai F, Valenti D, Manconi M. 2005. Liposomal incorporation of Artemisia arborescens L. essential oil and in vitro antiviral activity. Eur J Pharm Biopharm. 59(1): 161-8.
Skerlev M, Miklic P. 2010. The changing face of Microsporum spp infections. Clin Dermatol. 28:146-150.
Syed T, Qureshi Z, Ali S et al. 1999. Treatment of toenail onychomycosis with 2% butenafine and 5%
Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree in cream). Trop Med and Int Health. 4(4):284-287.
Theron E, Holeman M, Potin Gautier M, Pinel R. 1994. Authentication of Ravansara aromatica and
Ravansara anisata. Planta Med. 60(5):489-491.
Tomaszewski E. 2005. Lavender for spider veins. Unpublished dissertation for RJ Buckle Associates.
Tragoolpua Y, Jatisatienr A. 2007. Anti-herpes simplex virus activities of Eugenia caryophyllus (Spreng.)
Bullock & S. G. Harrison and essential oil, eugenol. Phytother Res. 21(12):1153-8.
Tronstein E, Johnston C, Huang M, Selke S, Magaret A et al. 2011. Genital Shedding of Herpes Simplex Virus Among Symptomatic and Asymptomatic Persons With HSV-2 Infection. JAMA. 305(14):
Tsukahara K, Nakagawa H, Moriwaki S, Takema Y, Fujimura T, Imokawa G. 2006. Inhibition of ultraviolet-B-induced wrinkle formation by an elastase-inhibiting herbal extract: implication for the
mechanism underlying elastase-associated wrinkles. In J Dermatol. 45(4):460-8.
Vadlapudi A, Vadlapatia R, Mitra A. 2013. Update On Emerging Antivirals For The Management Of
Herpes Simplex Virus Infections: A Patenting Perspective. Recent Pat Anitinfect Drug Discov. Jan 15.
[Epub ahead of print]. Accessed 7/3/2013.
Valgimigli L, Gabbanini S, Berlini E, Lucchi E, Beltramini C, Bertarelli Y. 2012. Lemon (Citrus limon,
Burm.f.) essential oil enhances the trans-epidermal release of lipid-(A, E) and water-(B6, C) soluble
vitamins from topical emulsions in reconstructed human epidermis. Int J Cosmet Sci. 34(4):347-56.
Viyoch J, Pisutthanan N, Faikreua A, Nupangta K, Wangtorpol K, Ngokkuen J. 2006. Evaluation of
in vitro antimicrobial activity of Thai basil oils and their micro-emulsion formulas against Propionibacterium acne. Internat J Cos Sci. 28(2):125-33.
Wald A. 2006. Genital HSV-1 Infections. Sex Transm Infect. 82(3):189-90.
Walling H. 2009. Subclinical onychomycosis is associated with tinea pedis. Br J Dermatol. 161:746-749.
Watanabe S, Harada T, Hiruma M, et al. 2010. Epidemiological survey of foot diseases in Japan: results
of 30,000 foot checks by dermatologists. J Dermatol. 37:397-406.
Wolbling R, Leonhardt K. 1994. Local therapy of herpes simplex with dried extract from Melissa officinalis. Phytomed. 1:24-31.
Wylde B. 2009. Grapefruit’s bittersweet reality. Alive: Canada’s Natural Health and Wellness Magazine.
Yahya H. 2009. Acne vulgaris in Nigerian adolescents – prevalence, severity, beliefs, perceptions, and
practices. Int J Dermatol. 48(5):498-505.
Zolfaghari M, Salamian P, Riazi A, Khaksa G. 1997. Clinical Efficacy of myrtle oil in Herpes simplex.
Iranian J Med Sci. 22(3-4):134-137.
Mental Health
“The mind is ever a tourist, wanting to touch and buy new things then toss them into
an already filled closet.”
Hafiz, The Gift, p 132
TABLE 15-1
TABLE 15-2
TABLE 15-3
TABLE 15-4
Selection of Published Articles on Animals, 288
RJ Buckle Student Studies on Addiction, 291
RJ Buckle Student Studies on Depression, 292
Published Articles on Depression in Humans, 297
BOX 15-1 | Protocol for Coming off Benzodiazepine or Night Sedation with
Aromatherapy, 292
BOX 15-2 | Commonly Used Medications for Bipolar Disorder: Benefits and Common
Side Effects, 299
BOX 15-3 | Essential Oils That May Be Useful in Bipolar Disorder, 300
BOX 15-4 | Essential Oils to Avoid in Bipolar Disorder, 300
here is no suggestion that anyone on medication for a mental illness should stop
taking them and replace them with aromatherapy. However, smell does impact
the brain and aromatherapy could play a role in ameliorating mental symptoms.
Pickover (1998) quotes Hippocrates, who wrote, “Men ought to know that from
nothing else but the brain come joys, delights, laughter, sorrows, griefs, despondency and lamentations.”
Over 40 years ago, Wiener (1966) of the New York Medical College suggested our
bodies had an internal and external communicating system that used our nervous
system without alerting us to its existence. Such a system, he suggested, was made
up of chemicals that interacted with the other systems in the body by means of
CHAPTER 15 | Mental Health
odor. Subsequent to his theory was the discovery that people with schizophrenia
gave out a persistent aroma discernible to dogs and rats. This aroma became more
pronounced when they were in crisis (Smith & Sines 1960).
In 2001, a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggested a
study of smell could shed light on some of the symptoms of schizophrenia (O’Neil
2001). Dr. Daniel O’Leary from the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics
exposed 18 people with schizophrenia and 15 healthy volunteers to a pleasant smell
(vanilla) and an unpleasant smell. An imaging device was used to track blood flow
to different areas of the brain, and subjects were asked to rate each smell. The mental imaging showed big differences between the two groups in the mental processing
of the unpleasant smell. The limbic system appeared to be highly active in healthy
subjects but largely unused with people with schizophrenia. The latter depended
more on frontal cortical areas usually reserved for functions such as decision making. This misuse of brain circuits could play a role in paranoia.
A recent systematic review by Schecklmann et al (2013) found there were specific changes in olfactory function in people with mental illness. Olfactory function was a biomarker in adult neuropsychiatric disorders. This was particularly so
in children/adolescents with disorders that involved dopamine transmission (e.g.,
attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism, schizophrenia, 22q11 deletion
Humans have approximately 1000 different olfactory receptor types, each tuned
to a particular kind of odor, that together contribute to our perception of smell
(Yeshurun & Sobel 2010). When humans lose their sense of smell (anosmia), there
is a risk of depression (Douek 1988, Smeets et al 2009, Irani et al 2010). Aristotle
noted that just the thought of smell could affect us (Caston 1998). Smell is the
most potent trigger for flashbacks suffered in posttraumatic stress (PTSD) (McCormick 2013, Abramovitz & Lichtenberg 2009). Smell affects what we crave, what we
become addicted to, what we find pleasure in, and even the will to live (Shepherd
2011). A familiar smell that has good memories allows us to feel safe.
The use of psychoactive products evolved along two related paths: for religious
or recreational pursuits, and to modify normal behavior (Alexander 2001). The
effects of aromas on the brain were first tested in 1966 (Moncrieff 1966). He used an
electroencephalograph (EEG) to monitor changes in brainwave patterns. Moncrieff
later found that basil, black pepper, cardamom, and rosemary induced mainly beta
patterns. Jasmine, neroli, and rose induced mainly delta patterns (Moncrieff 1977).
Beta brain patterns (13 to 40 cycles per second) are concerned with attention and
alertness. Delta brain patterns (0 to 4 cycles per second) are concerned with euphoria and calmness (Thorsten et al 2001). Dodd and Van Toller (1983) compared
the action of chemical components found in essential oils to the action of psychotropic drugs such as antidepressants. Torii et al (1988) reported on the electrical
changes of the brain and the similarities between emotion and the sense of smell.
King (1988) explored the relationship between odor and anxiety. Hirata et al (2002)
showed that cerebral blood flow to the prefrontal cortex increased when fragrance
was inhaled. Since then, considerable research on the effects of aroma (and some
SECTION III | Aromatherapy in Clinical Specialties
TABLE 15-1 Selection of Published Articles on Animals
Neurochemical or
Addictive Chemical
Essential oil/
Zhao et al
Norte et al
Komiya et al
Ito et al
5-HT & DA
et al
Costa et al
Fukada et al
Inhibition of synaptic
plasticity in epilepsy
GABA(A) receptorbenzodiazepine
HPA axis
Angelica gigas
Methyl eugenol
of their components) on brain function and brain disorders has been published. A
selection is listed in Table 15-1.
During intense stress, bereavement, or when the dark dog of despair descends,
links with reality can become blurred. Familiar smells that are reminders of a safe
world and reassuring touch may operate like beacons in the fog, illuminating the
way back to reality. Patients with mental health problems can be a reminder of just
how fragile sanity is.
Essential oils affect how we feel (Burnett et al 2004). This means that components
within essential oils have the capacity to alter brain chemistry. As long ago as 1992,
Sugano suggested that natural fragrances could provide a cost-effective and efficient
alternative to some stimulants and sedatives. Tisserand (1988) suggested that olfactory “ecstasy” was discovered by man at a very early age. Buchbauer and Jirovetz
(1994) wrote that essential oils could be viewed as medicines.
Most synthetic psychotropic medications have limited efficacy and significant
side effects. Preliminary findings suggest several treatments based on natural substances are as effective and safe as the synthetic pharmaceuticals in current use
(Lake 2000, Uehleke et al 2012).
Obviously, strong sedatives and antipsychotic medicines can become essential
when the condition of a patient is unmanageable. However, it could be argued that
there are some patients who have poor coping mechanisms. This could be due to
genetics, environmental issues, or just one of those unexplainable things. There is
a large group of people in mental healthcare programs for whom aromatherapy
could be beneficial. It could also be useful in psychiatric centers, when a patient
becomes agitated and needs to calm down.
CHAPTER 15 | Mental Health
Fowler (2004), an R.J. Buckle student, carried out such a study in a step-down
residential center for adolescents with DSM-1 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of
Mental Disorders). Patients were offered a “calming blend” (3% ylang ylang, sweet
marjoram, and bergamot in jojoba oil) instead of medication when necessary (prn)
for agitation. The calming blend was given in a 5-minute hand ‘M’ Technique. All
nurses were on the unit were taught the hand ‘M’ Technique. Parents signed consent
forms and patients gave informed consent. The number of prn interventions (oral,
IM or restraint) for the 3 months before the aromatherapy study began was compared with the duration of the 3-month study. There were significant reductions
in the number of prn interventions for agitation during the aromatherapy study.
The number of injections decreased from 43 to 31 and oral medications decreased
from 631 to 397. Additionally, the number of seclusion and restraint interventions
decreased from 29 to 20. This could be from the essential oils, the ‘M’ Technique
or the novelty of something new. But this kind of drug (and nurse time) saving is
worth investigating further. Fowler published her findings in 2006 (Fowler 2006).
Butje et al (2008) discuss the low cost and low side effect appeal of aromatherapy
for mental health in their article.
“Addiction is a condition that results in significant harm to the individual and to
society more generally” (Capps et al 2012). Society “judges” addiction, feeling it to
be a bad choice that an individual makes. However, recent brain research challenges
that there is a choice, with the suggestion that addiction could be a brain disease
(Rahman 2011): a brain disease that could be treatable. It is known that an individual’s inherited genetic makeup can influence his or her addiction risk. A growing
body of preclinical and clinical data appears to suggest that nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) in the human brain play a pivotal role in drug addiction,
including nicotine and alcohol dependence (Rahman 2011).
Today’s society is an addictive one, and it often rewards socially acceptable
addictions like workaholism, accepts shopaholics and nicotine addiction, condones
alcohol addiction, and prosecutes drug addiction. Yet the ethos behind addiction—
instant gratification—is at the very core of today’s society. People want things
instantly. Texting and emails have replaced letters, faxes and, to an extent, phone
calls. In addition to this, we live in a world where people who are unable to cope
with the pace of life are often isolated, ridiculed, or forgotten. It is hardly surprising
that addiction is on the increase.
Results of the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) showed
an estimated 22.6 million Americans (8.9%) aged 12 or older were current or past
month illicit drug users (Manchikanti 2012). There is a huge increase in adolescents
(13 to 18 years) developing Substance Use Disorder (SUD) (Merikangas & McClair
2012). This increase in substance abuse is a global phenomenon and covers alcohol,
nicotine, cannabis, and cocaine (Degenhardt 2008). This statement is supported by
studies from Korea (Kim et al 2012), Taiwan (Wang et al 2012), Brazil (Madruga
et al 2012), and France (Mura et al 2012), as well as many other countries.
SECTION III | Aromatherapy in Clinical Specialties
In 2008, the number of deaths by poisoning exceeded the number of those dying
in a car accident. Poisoning was the leading cause of “injury death” in the United
States (Warner et al 2011). A total of 90% of deaths by poisoning were from drug
overdose, with the vast majority being unintentional (Shah et al 2008). In addition,
many illicit drugs, e.g., amphetamines, cocaine, ecstasy, heroin, lysergic acid diethylamide, marijuana and phencyclidine, have been linked to major cardiovascular
events such as strokes (Esse et al 2011).
While there are many detox programs available in the United States (Polsky
et al 2010) and in other countries such as Canada (Li et al 2008) and Australia
(McAvoy 2008), much depends on the person being able to withstand the cravings
during, and after, withdrawal.
There are three stages to drug detox (Praveen et al 2011)—primary stage is
stabilization, second stage is withdrawal, and third stage is preventing relapse
by improving well-being. Ernst (2012) debunks the idea of any alternative detox.
However, it may be that some complementary therapies, such as aromatherapy,
may help in the process. According to studies carried out by R.J. Buckle students,
aromatherapy appears to reduce cravings (Table 15-2). Aromatherapy alleviated
the withdrawal process during the second stage. Aromatherapy can also improve
hard hyph well-being (third stage). However, there is no suggestion aromatherapy
should replace conventional drug detox treatment. However, for those wanting to
cut down on cigarettes, inhaling essential oils (through a personal inhaler) might
help reduce craving. For those wanting to cut down gradually on sleeping tablets
or antidepressants, a protocol (that has been used successfully for the last 15 years)
can be found in Table 15-3 and Box 15-1. More recently, a similar protocol has
been used by Komori et al (2006). The mixture of essential oils (sandalwood [35%],
juniper berry [12%], rose [8%], and orris [6%]) was first tested on rats and then on
42 outpatients with low-dose dependence on hypnotic benzodiazepines. Sedation
was reduced 25% each week while the participant inhaled the essential oil mixture
at bedtime: 26 participants reduced the dosage and 12 subjects were weaned off
Nicotine Addiction
The idea that an olfactory stimulus might reduce craving for nicotine was explored
by Seyette and Parrott (1999). They found that both negative and positive aromas decreased cravings against a nonodoriferous control in nicotine addiction.
The sense of smell is lessened in a heavy smoker nevertheless, aromatherapy has
achieved some modest success. R.J. Buckle students have conducted several studies as listed in Table 15-2. DaCosta (1999) was one of the first R.J. Buckle students
to explore the effect of inhaled essential oils as a means to reduce the craving of
nicotine withdrawal. The three essential oils DaCosta used were lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), Helichrysum italicum, and Angelica archangelica. Four male subjects who smoked at least 10 cigarettes a day and had tried unsuccessfully to stop
smoking in the past were recruited. The period immediately after breakfast, lunch
and supper were chosen as those were the hardest times to abstain from smoking.
CHAPTER 15 | Mental Health
TABLE 15-2 RJ Buckle Student Studies on Addiction
Essential Oil
Three different oils*
Ylang ylang
Lavender plus
Three different oils‡
Black pepper
Black pepper/
E. globulus
Black pepper/
Black pepper
*Three different oils: angelica, Helichrysum, and lavender.
†Carino, Chalifour and Drumm carried out studies on in-patients in hospitals.
‡Dr. Cordell’s research was carried out on a college campus, and later published (2012).
§A mixture of three different oils: angelica, Helichrysum, and German chamomile.
The normal period the test subjects could wait before smoking (baseline) was minimal, less than 2 minutes. Each essential oil was then tested separately for 5 consecutive days, divided by a dry-out period of 2 days, and the subjects timed how long
they could last without a cigarette. Angelica root appeared to be the most helpful,
with subjects able to wait an average of 53 minutes before having a cigarette. This
was a considerable improvement on 2 minutes, although inhaling angelica did not
prevent them from smoking after 53 minutes.
SECTION III | Aromatherapy in Clinical Specialties
TABLE 15-3 RJ Buckle Student Studies on Depression
Essential Oil
Cardiac rehab
BOX 15-1 Protocol for Coming off Benzodiazepine or Night Sedation
with Aromatherapy
Week 1
Week 2
Week 3
Week 4
Week 5
Week 6
Week 7
Week 8
Week 9
Week 10
Choose aroma(s) from a selection of six.
Choose touch or nontouch application. Apply oil in office.
Give written instructions on when and how to use aromatherapy.
Reduce medication by 25%.
Reduce medication by further 25%.
Remain on 50% medication.
Reduce medication to 25%.
Remain on 25% medication.
25% medication alternate days.
Remain on 25% medication alternate days.
25% medication twice a week.
25% medication once a week.
Since then, there have been 13 further pilot studies conducted by R.J. Buckle
students. Most of them used inhaled essential oils. Many of them chose black pepper because of the study by Rose and Behm (1994). Rose and Behm hypothesized
that clients needed to experience the respiratory-tract sensations that accompany
cigarette smoking in order to quit successfully. They believed black pepper essential
oil could simulate those sensations. When they tested their theory, the found “the
vapor of black pepper essential oil, when inhaled, partially reproduces the respiratory tract sensations experienced when smoking, thereby reducing the craving for
In the RJBA studies, angelica appeared to make the craving more bearable
and therefore the person could wait longer before smoking, or smoke fewer cigarettes. This essential oil is from the root of Angelica archangelica. I have found it
extremely useful to empower people in difficult situations where they need to stay in
control—for example, at a funeral of a loved one. I am not sure how to describe that
intrinsic property—but it does appear to work in addiction withdrawal.
CHAPTER 15 | Mental Health
Cordell explored the effect of inhaled aromas on a university campus. This
study compared the effect of inhaling black pepper to angelica. What is interesting
about this study is that while the subjects were all trying to quit tobacco, their use of
tobacco ranged from smoking cigarettes to chewing tobacco or using snuff. Black
pepper appeared to reduce craving across the board, but angelica allowed a longer
period of time before using the tobacco product.
Finally, aromatherapy appeared to enhance motivation during conventional
nicotine dependence treatment (Koszwoski et al 2005). This would occur even if
black pepper or angelica or any other essential oil did not reduce the actual craving
Substance Addiction
Caldwell (2001) explored the effects of ylang ylang (Cananga odorata) in a small,
controlled study of 10 women suffering from cravings following withdrawal of substance abuse. All women were taking orthodox medication. The participants were
randomly split into two groups: an experimental group and a control group. The
experimental group was given essential oil of ylang ylang to inhale and the control group received plain almond oil. Both groups were told that they were using
something. The participants were self-selecting and limited to women dealing with
chemical addiction. All 10 participants had either stopped using and were still experiencing cravings, or were trying to stop using and were experiencing cravings.
Each participant put two drops of the oil on a cotton square and put the square
in her pillowcase every night for 7 nights. The participants were also asked to put
two to three drops of oil on a cotton hanky, carry the hanky with them for 7 days,
and smell it if they experienced a craving. The participants were asked to record the
number of cravings, their intensity, and any other comments.
The results showed the number of cravings for the essential oil group went
down more than for the control group. However, ylang did not prevent cravings
completely. Four out of five women in the experimental group believed “smelling
the oil relieved the stress and anxiety of that moment.” None of the participants
using the almond oil expressed this feeling. Caldwell (2001) notes that ylang ylang’s
positive effect might be enhanced by using a diffuser at night.
Chalifour (2005) looked at reducing the nausea experienced in patients withdrawing from opiate and crack at the Cooley Dickenson Hospital, Northampton,
Massachusetts. Eight patients were given peppermint to inhale for nausea. Subjects
rated their nausea using a CIWA form (Clinical Institute Withdrawal Assessment).
This scale was used before meals (breakfast and lunch). Peppermint was given 30
minutes before meals. There appeared to be a 100% reduction in nausea.
Alcohol Addiction
Olfactory loss is common in alcoholics (Shear et al 1992) as well as cocaine users
(Schwartz et al 1998), and heroin addicts (Perl et al 1997). Loss of smell is not
thought to affect the transfer of the volatile molecules unless there is damage to
the olfactory nerve. Loss of smell in addicts is thought to be due to damage to the
SECTION III | Aromatherapy in Clinical Specialties
cortical and subcortical brain regions (Shear et al 1992), but it is possible there is
nerve damage due to snorting or sniffing cocaine, heroin, and glue.
A search of the literature only produced one piece of research on alcohol addiction and aromatherapy (Kunz et al 2007). This randomized, controlled study
compared aromatherapy to auricular acupuncture in alcohol addiction for 5 days.
There were 99 participants: 54 randomized to the aromatherapy group and 55 to
the acupuncture group. The main rating scale was assessment of alcohol withdrawal
syndrome (AWS scale). There was a fairly high dropout factor. Only 36 patients
completed acupuncture and 38 patients completed aromatherapy. Both groups
appeared to have the same reduction in the craving and withdrawal symptoms.
Thus aromatherapy was as successful as acupuncture in this instance.
Barrett (2002) explored the effects of aromatherapy on alcohol addiction withdrawal at Highline Community Medical Center for her RJBA certification. This
facility offers hospital-based treatment for chemical dependency at its Tukwila,
Washington, location and had been treating addiction for 40 years. HRS Highline
operates 12 beds for medical detoxification and 18 beds for brief inpatient stabilization. In addition, approximately 100 patients are treated concurrently on an
outpatient basis. Barrett created both protocol and policy and then introduced an
aromatherapy program to support the detox process.
Participants rated their symptoms on a scale of 0 to 4 (0 = no symptoms,
4 = extreme symptoms). A medicine cup containing 5 mL diluted essential oils was
given to the participant by a nurse at bedtime. The essential oils were 5% Roman
chamomile, lavender and ylang ylang in sunflower oil. The patient rubbed the
mixture into their throat and chest area and the nurse documented the use of aromatherapy in the progress notes. The following morning, participants ranked their
symptoms again while the nurse took their vital signs (respiration, blood pressure).
The nurse also noted any difference in mood the patient reported. The study was
carried out over a 3-week period in 2002.
The scent of the mixture appealed to more women than men and there was less
compliance in the male sector. However, there appeared to be a positive change of
more than 50% in terms of feeling less restless. It also reduced their anxiety and
increased their ability to go to sleep. Barrett’s most recent thoughts are that inhaled
aromas might be an easier method, especially now there are personal inhalers, packets and pouches available (personal communication, January 2013).
Food Addiction
Obesity and its undisputed links to hypertension, diabetes and many other health
conditions is increasing rapidly. Currently, approximately 70% of adult Americans
are overweight or obese. This figure is replicated throughout much of the Western world. More UK, South Asian, black African-Caribbean and white European
children are becoming obese (Nightingale et al 2011). Fast food has been named
the culprit. As early as 2007, there was growing concern about corn syrup, with
one study even suggesting the intense sweetness of corn syrup was as addictive as
cocaine (Lenoir et al 2007). Three years later, some researchers still felt there was
CHAPTER 15 | Mental Health
no evidence that any food or food ingredient (including sucrose) was addictive
(Benton 2010). Current research says that bingeing on food that is crammed with
sugar/sweeteners (as fast food is) increases extracellular dopamine in the striatum,
and this is what gives it an addictive potential (Fortuna 2012).
Dopamine plays an important role in addiction as it produces both feel good
and reward sensations (Saddoris et al 2013). When blood glucose levels rise, they
increase absorption of tryptophan (through the large neutral amino acid [LNAA]
complex). Trytophan is then converted into serotonin, a mood elevator (Fortuna
2012). Today, the medical system worldwide is having to deal with epidemic of
those wanting to “overcome food addiction and reverse proinflammatory states of
illhealth” (Shriner 2012).
Interestingly, the olfactory cortex has been shown to be the site in the brain that
monitors the consumption of essential amino acids in the diet (Shepherd 2010). If
there are insufficient essential amino acids in the food presented to a rat, it will stop
eating it (Gietzen & Rogers 2006). There is some evidence the same mechanism may
act in humans (Neville & Haberly 2004, Wilson & Linster 2008).
In today’s society, large portions of food are expected, even if they cannot be
eaten. Everything must be big. It is as though people feel too small in a world that
undervalues them. It may be that people feel they have a “hole in their wholeness”
and are hungry for anything that will stop that feeling of emptiness. There have
been various attempts to help people eat smaller portions of food. These have
ranged from sprinkling food with crystals to make the food taste more filling, to a
“smart” fork that vibrates when you eat too fast. These inventions may not be a bad
idea, but if some food is addictive, there will be withdrawal symptoms. Inhaling an
essential oil may help those withdrawal symptoms. The best method would be to
use an individual inhaler, packet or patch.
RJBA students carried out two studies on reducing food intake, Table 15-2.
Hood (2005) randomly allocated her 30 volunteers into three groups. Each volunteer was at least 10 pounds overweight and had been unable to lose weight. There
were two experimental groups (mandarin or lavender) and one control group
(grapeseed oil). The participants were asked to smell the oil (a) before meals and
(b) when food cravings came. Participants were asked not to alter their normal eating habits and not to try to diet. The study lasted 6 weeks. The mandarin group had
average weight loss of 2.4 pounds. The lavender group had average weight loss of
5.3 pounds. The control group had average weight loss of 1.2 pounds.
Herring (2006) chose fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) for her study. Her 21 volunteers were people who had been trying unsuccessfully to reduce their carbohydrate intake and thus lower their weight. Volunteers were randomly allocated to
the experimental or control group. The experimental group applied diluted 3%
fennel to their wrists three times a day. (In addition, they could also apply it prn.)
The study lasted 2 weeks. Participants recorded the number of times they applied
the fennel mixture and rated their cravings on a 0 to 10 scale. Weight was recorded
at the beginning and end of the study. It appeared that as applications of the fennel
increased so craving decreased. There was no correlation between the control group
SECTION III | Aromatherapy in Clinical Specialties
application and craving. The average weight loss was 3.51 pounds in the fennel
group and 2.81 pounds in the control group.
Sleeping Pill and Benzodiazepine Addiction
According to the British Freedom of Information Act, in 2011 approximately
15.3 million sleeping pill prescriptions were handed out by the NHS at a cost to the
UK government of nearly £50 million. The most popular sleeping pill was zopiclone. It was prescribed to more than 5.2 million patients nationally, making it the
most popular sleeping tablet. In the United States, 1 in 10 Americans take sleeping
pills. Insomnia has a chapter dedicated to it in this book, so suffice to go straight to
the protocol to enable patients to get off sleeping pills (Box 15-1).
Benzodiazepine addiction has the same protocol. There is a nice Japanese piece
of research in the literature (Komori et al 2006) that used a very similar protocol.
Forty-two outpatients from Department of Psychiatry, Mie University Graduate
School of Medicine took part in the study. Initially, participants were asked to try
and reduce their benzodiazepine dose by 25% per week, without any essential oils:
29 subjects failed. These patients were then invited to retry, using essential oils. Participants inhaled a mixture of sandalwood (35%), juniper berry (12%), rose (8%)
and orris (6%). Twenty-six out of 29 reduced their dose and 12 managed to come
off the drug completely.
The number of people taking antidepressant drugs in the Western world has increased
exponentially. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),
the increase is 400% since 1998. However, some people may confuse being depressed
with what is really an inability to cope, or loneliness. In the words of Patch Adams, a
medical doctor who is also a famous clown (1997), “Prozac has replaced a hug.” It is
in this shadowy area of mild depression where aromatherapy may help. Although all
the hi-tech advances in the world cannot rewire the brain, something as simple as an
essential oil may enable the brain to reregulate itself (Alexander 2001).
There are been several published studies on aromatherapy and depression in
humans: Table 15-4. Most of these studies have involved massage. Most of them
have looked at depression as a symptom of a specific illness such as cancer or in hospice patients. There is a lack of evidence for using inhaled essential oils in depression in a clinical way. This is surprising as it has been shown that inhaled aroma
has a rapid effect on mood and this effect is measurable by EEG (Diego et al 1998).
Itai et al’s study (2000) concluded that inhaled aroma was an effective, noninvasive
way of treating depression. Perry and Perry (2006) wrote in their review of aromatherapy in mental health that there were some promising results and suggested
concentrating on inhaled aromas studies for depression. Van der Watt also asks for
more inhalation studies to support the use of aromatherapy in mental healthcare
(2008). Dobetsberger and Buchbauer (2010), several years later, state that research
proves that essential oils can influence the central nervous system, but again calls
for more research.
CHAPTER 15 | Mental Health
TABLE 15-4 Published Articles on Depression in Humans
Essential Oil
Kite et al
Louise &
Graham et al
Soden et al
Kim et al
Lee & Lee
et al
De Watt et al
Yim et al
+ve, positive; -ve, negative.
*A mixture of lavender, marjoram, eucalyptus, rosemary and peppermint in the ratio 2:1:2:1:1.
†Positive at 6 weeks but not at 10 weeks.
Clearly, inhaled essential oils for depression would be an exciting area of study.
It would also be interesting to explore how an inhaled essential oil might impact a
conventional antidepressant drug. It would be possible to add ambient aroma to
psychotherapy counseling and give the patient the same aroma to inhale on a regular basis to measure if this enhanced the therapy session. Another idea would be to
use the individual aroma pouches that are now available or to explore the impact of
using a diffuser at night on prn medication.
Essential oils applied topically (but without massage) have also been shown
to affect mood. Hongratanaworakit and Buchbauer (2006) found that ylang ylang
applied to the skin had a relaxing effect. Two years earlier, these two scientists had
evaluated the effect of ylang ylang when inhaled (Hongratanaworakit & Buchbauer
Depression has been linked to the inability to give up smoking in a Korean
study (Kim et al 2013), so inhaling a mixture of specific essential oils could be an
excellent way to reduce both depression and smoking.
Okomoto et al (2005) explored the effect of aromatherapy massage on mild
depression. Five patients (aged 31 to 59) who had a diagnosis of depression took
part in the study. No patient was taking antidepressants or receiving psychotherapy.
Each patient was given a 30-minute aromatherapy massage with a mixture of essential oils (geranium, basil and sweet orange) twice a week for 4 weeks (eight massages in total). Outcome measures were Hamilton Depression Rating (HDR) scale
and Profile of Mood (POM) scale. The measures were taken before the first session
SECTION III | Aromatherapy in Clinical Specialties
and after the eighth session. Data was examined using Wilcoxin matched pairs test.
Ham score and the confusion-bewilderment (C-B) score that are part of POMs
were significantly improved (P = 0.039 and 0.043, respectively). This suggests that
there was both subjective and objective improvement.
Bipolar Disorder
“Bipolar disorder is responsible for the loss of more disability-adjusted life years
(DALYs) than all forms of cancer, or than major neurologic conditions such as epilepsy and Alzheimer’s disease” (Merinkangas et al 2011). The incidence of bipolar
disorder appears to be increasing. This could be because there is more, or because
it is recognized and diagnosed more often. There are different intensities of bipolar.
The NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health) defines these as:
Bipolar 2 Disorder: pattern of depressive episodes shifting back and forth with
hypomanic episodes, but no full-blown manic or mixed episodes.
Bipolar 1 Disorder: mainly defined by manic or mixed episodes that last at least
7 days, or by severe manic symptoms that require immediate hospital care.
Approximately 2.5 million Americans are diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The
United States has the highest lifetime and 12-month prevalence of bipolar (bipolar
1 = 4.4%, bipolar 2 = 2.8%) while India has the lowest (0.1%,) for both categories
(Merinkangas et al 2011). Bipolar disorder can cause serious problems with work,
social life, and relationships unless the person is stabilized with drugs and psychotherapy (Maiera 2012).
There is a distinct lack of information about the use of aromatherapy in bipolar disorder (Andreescu et al 2008) and there is no suggestion that anyone with
bipolar disorder should come off their stabilizing drugs. However, aromas may
prove useful as an adjunctive therapy. Hardy et al (2012) found the sense of smell
was heightened during the depressive stage of bipolar disorder, and reduced during the manic stage (P = 0.024). They tested 64 people (20 with bipolar disorder
and 44 controls).
Originally named manic-depression, bipolar disorder was discovered by
German psychiatrist Emil Kraepelin after carefully observing many patients in the
nineteenth century (Zivanovic & Nedic 2012). Kraepelin found patients had spontaneous remission of symptoms that could last for months or years before relapsing.
The patients who had suffered episodic periods of illness in their 20s were more
likely to have them in their 40s. Bipolar disorder is a relapsing illness that may recur
more frequently as the patient ages. Bipolar disorder is thought to run in families,
and chromosome 18 is thought to be the gene responsible (Stine et al 1995, Mulle
et al 2007, Howrigan et al 2011).
Conventional drug treatment is with lithium and divalproex (Depakote).
However, they both have significant side effects. The National Institutes of Mental
Health states that people with bipolar disorder often have thyroid gland problems
but lithium treatment may also cause low thyroid levels. It also states that divalproex (sometimes called valproic acid) can increase levels of testosterone in teenage girls and lead to polycystic ovaries if medication commences before age 20.
CHAPTER 15 | Mental Health
BOX 15-2 Commonly Used Medications for Bipolar Disorder: Benefits
and Common Side Effects
Pure mania, history of
May correct chem- Weight gain,
depression, family history ical imbalance in
dry mouth,
of bipolar disorder, prebrains’ transmisconfusion, poor
vious favorable response
sion of nerve
to lithium, few previimpulses that
shakiness, tremous episodes, full relief
influence mood
or, increased
between symptoms
and behavior
Mixed mania, nonfavorIncreases gamma
Loss of appetite,
able response to lithium,
nausea, diarrhea,
mood swings, adverse
acid, which
tremor, unusual
effects less severe, atteninhibits nerve
weight gain (or
tion deficit hyperactivity
transmission to
loss), menstrual
disorder, substance abuse parts of the brain
Carbamazepine No family history of
Analgesic, anticon- Dizziness, blurred
bipolar disorder, bipolar
vision, headaches,
disorder is a secondary
condition, lack of response
eye movement
to other medication
The anticonvulsant lamotrigine (Lamictal) has recently been approved for bipolar
disease (Box 15-2).
Many neurologic problems are a function of altered brain pattern and a
change in neurochemicals. The human body is controlled by extremely delicate
mechanisms that rely on hormonal and chemical communication. Each person has
a slightly different body chemistry that requires different things to achieve homeostasis. Like herbs, essential oils are therapeutically multifaceted. Therefore, the
components within an essential oil may produce a different reaction in one person
than in another, depending on the availability of receptor sites (Mills 1991). For
example, an essential oil may work to reduce blood pressure (acting as a hypotensor) if that is what is required for homeostasis, or it may not if the blood pressure is
normal for that person. When a plant has the ability to change function it is called
adaptogenic. Many essential oils also have a balancing effect on the emotions.
Various antipsychotic agents have antagonistic interactions toward a whole
selection of receptor sites including serotoninic, adrenergic, and histaminic. Therefore their ongoing effects on the autonomic nervous system are complex and
unpredictable (Alexander 2001). This is the case with each of the hundreds of components in essential oils that interact with many receptor sites. While antidepressants work by making the neurotransmitter serotonin linger in the gaps between
brain cells, essential oils are thought to work as serotonin agonists, which can push
the serotonin system into overdrive. This makes the brain more sensitive, rather like
turning up the volume on a radio so very weak stations can be heard.
SECTION III | Aromatherapy in Clinical Specialties
BOX 15-3 Essential Oils That May Be Useful in Bipolar Disorder
Common Name
Angelica root
Ylang ylang
Clary sage
Botanical Name
Pelargonium graveolens
Lavandula angustifolia
Santalum album
Angelica archangelica
Rosa damascena
Pogostemon cablin
Cananga odorata var. genuina
Valeriana fauriei
Vetiveria zizanoides
Nardostachys jatamansi
Melissa officinalis
Citrus bergamia
Salvia sclarea
BOX 15-4 Essential Oils to Avoid in Bipolar Disorder
Essential Oil
White camphor
Suspect Component
Amount (approximate)
I want to emphasize that there is no suggestion that patients with bipolar disorder should give up medication in favor of aromatherapy.
There is little if anything published on bipolar disorder and aromatherapy. However, essential oils may enhance orthodox medication so dosages may be kept sufficiently low and thus reduce side effects. However, a few psychiatric nurses (who were
my students) have had some success with stabilizing patients using aromatherapy. As
these were case studies it is difficult to say whether the patients’ stability would have
happened anyway. Other case studies by psychiatric nurses have indicated aromatherapy may help reduce the level of orthodox medication and still retain stability.
Box 15-3 lists recommended essential oils and Box 15-4 details essential oils to avoid.
Stress exacerbates the number of relapses with bipolar disorder (type 2). Psychotherapy has been shown to reduce the number of relapses and improve the quality of life of these patients (Maiera 2012). A psychotherapy session may be a safe
situation where a set aromatherapy ritual or protocol could be worked out with the
patient. The aromas would be experienced for the first time in a stable, calm, balanced situation, with supervision. The protocol would include what essential oil(s)
CHAPTER 15 | Mental Health
to use, when, where, and how, and this could form part of the therapy. When this
pattern is well established, the essential oils could be experienced in the patient’s
own setting. This is akin to preparing a “psychological comfort blanket.” This setting of a psychological trigger is similar to Bett’s research (1994) with epilepsy. He
found massage with ylang ylang set a precedent so strong, that ultimately, patients
had only to think about the aroma of ylang ylang to prevent a seizure occurring.
Perhaps psychotherapy for bipolar patients could be underpinned by scent (in the
form of essential oils) in a similar way?
Abramovitz E, Lichtenberg P. 2009. Hypnotherapeutic olfactory conditioning (HOC): case-studies
of needle phobia, pain disorder and combat-induced PTSD. Int J Clinical Experimental Hypnosis.
Alexander M. 2001. How Aromatherapy Works. Odessa, FL: Whole Spectrum Books.
Andreescu C, Mulsant B, Emanuel J. 2008. Complementary and alternative medicine in the treatment of
bipolar disorder—a review of the evidence. J Affect Disord. 110(1-2):16–26.
Barrett D. 2002. Aromatherapy to alleviate addiction withdrawal in hospitalised patients. RJBA unpublished dissertation.
Benton 2010. The plausibility of sugar addiction and its role in obesity and eating disorders Clin Nutrition.
Biesecker B. 2011. Black pepper for nicotine withdrawal. Unpublished dissertation for RJ Buckle Associates.
Buchbauer G, Jirovetz L 1994. Aromatherapy—use of fragrances and essential oils as medicants, Flav
Frag J. 9:217–222.
Burnett K, Solterbeck L, Strapp C. 2004. Scent and mood state following an anxiety-provoking task.
Psychol Rep. 95(2):707–722.
Butje A, Repede E, Shattell M. 2008. Healing scents: An overview of clinical aromatherapy for emotional
distress. Journal of Psychosocial Nursing. 46(10):46–52.
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Better to light one small candle than to curse the darkness.
TABLE 16-1
TABLE 16-2
TABLE 16-3
TABLE 16-4
TABLE 16-5
TABLE 16-6
TABLE 16-7
Published Studies on Essential Oils with Antitumoral Properties, 309
Essential Oils and Spritzers for Radiation Burns, 310
Published Studies on Essential Oils for Chemo-Induced Nausea, 312
Essential Oils for Mucositis, 313
Essential Oils for Chemo-Induced Peripheral Neuropathy, 314
Sample of Published Aromatherapy Studies in Cancer Patients, 316
R.J. Buckle Student Studies on Cancer Patients, 318
BOX 16-1 | The Oral Mucositis Assessment Scale (OMAS), 312
n estimate of the prevalence of cancer worldwide (measured over a 5-year
period) was 28.8 million in 2008 (Bray et al 2013). Almost half of those with
cancer lived in highly developed areas. Breast cancer was the most common overall.
Prostate cancer was most prevalent in the United States and Europe. Stomach cancer was most prevalent in Asia, notably in China. Cervical cancer was most prevalent in Africa and parts of Asia. The incidence of oral cancer was highest in India.
More than 3.5 million nonmelanoma skin cancers were treated in 2006 (Fleming
et al 2013). The incidence of human papillomavirus (HPV) is increasing and has
been identified as a precursor to cancer (Forman et al 2012). However, more people
die from lung cancer in the United States than any other type of cancer (CDC 2013).
In the United States in 2009, 205,974 people were diagnosed with lung cancer, and
158,081 people died from it (USCS—United States Cancer Statistics 2013). In the
UK in 2010, there were 157,275 deaths from cancer overall (Cancer Research UK
2013). The predicted number of deaths from cancer within the European Union in
2013 is 1,314,296 (737,747 men and 576,489 women) (Malvezzi et al 2013).
CHAPTER 16 | Oncology
The cost of treatment for cancer varies according to the site of the cancer, but
in fee-paying countries the patient is often faced with worryingly large bills. For
example, the cost of treating pancreatic cancer was estimated as $65,500 per person
(O’Neill et al 2012) and an estimate of the cost of breast cancer treatment (over a
lifetime) ranged from $US20,000 to $US100,000 (Campbell & Ramsey 2009). Prevention can be as expensive as treatment. Goulart et al (2012) state that the cost of
screening to avoid one lung cancer death is $240,000.
The possible causes of cancer are many and range from electromagnetic (Hardell &
Sage 2008) or chemical pollution (Poirier 2012) to genetic predisposition (Fleming et al 2013) and severe psychological stress (Cabaniols et al 2011). Many cancer
patients suffer symptoms such as pain, nausea, and emotional distress that conventional medicine is unable to treat satisfactorily. Recently, it was found that some
cancer cells have become drug resistant (He et al 2013). Cancer has been around
for a million years; traces of it were found in mummies from the Great Pyramid at
Giza (Lewis & Elvin-Lewis 1977). Humans do not have a monopoly on the disease,
as higher-order animals also suffer from cancer.
The three main orthodox treatments for cancer are surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. These treatments save lives but can be hard to endure—some patients saying
the treatment is worse than the cancer it is supposed to treat. Cancer-drug research has
had its share of bad publicity. In 2008, four Italian academics analyzed all the randomized clinical trials on cancer treatments that had been published during the previous
11 years and that were stopped early (Goldacre 2012). Eighty-six percent of the trials
that were stopped early were to bring a new cancer drug on to the market. A review
published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that 100
clinical trials had been stopped early to show the test drug in the most positive light
and that the effects of the drug were consequently overstated (Bassler et al 2010).
Plant materials have been used to treat malignant diseases for centuries. It is fascinating how the same plants are cited all over the world for the treatment of cancer. For example, Dr. Fell completed a study of 25 cases of breast cancer using the
herb bloodwort at the Middlesex Hospital in London in 1857. He chose bloodwort
(Sanguinaria canadensis) because it had been used by American Indians. Fell found
that all his cases went into remission (Fell 1857). It is difficult to establish whether
this really happened, although Sanguinaria also has a long history of use in Russia
for the treatment of cancer (Lewis & Elvin-Lewis 1977).
Madagascan periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus) contains the alkaloids vinblastine
and vincristine that have been useful in treating cancer (Dewick 1989). However,
recently some renal carcinoma cells have become vinblastine resistant (Long et al
2013) and some laryngeal cancers are now vincristine resistant (Yin et al 2013).
Interestingly, some plants can enhance the effect of conventional anticancer drugs
on resistant cancer cells. For example, curcumin reverses the multidrug resistance
of human colon cancer cells in vitro and in vivo (Lu et al 2013).
SECTION III | Aromatherapy in Clinical Specialties
Ironically, the uses of plants and plant extracts are now called “novel
approaches” (Park et al 2012). Indeed, a search on PubMed using the words antitumor drug and herb produced 203 hits. These include honokiol from magnolia
(Zheng et al 2013), corilagin from Phyllanthus niruri (Jia et al 2013) and fenugreek
(Al-Daghri et al 2012).
Some essential oils, or components found within essential oils, have been
found to have antitumoral activity. An in vitro cytotoxicity assay (using MTT—­
microtube-targeting) indicated that the essential oil of Melissa officinalis was very
effective against a series of human cancer cell lines (A549, MCF-7, Caco-2, HL-60,
K562) (de Sousa et al 2004). Sclareol, a diterpenol in Salvia sclarea (clary sage), was
found to kill cell lines of human leukemia and had an inhibitory concentration of
lower than 20 μg/mL (Dimas et al 1999). Recent research found sclareol reduced
tumor size and enhanced the effect of cancer therapy (Noori et al 2013). Delora
et al (1994) found myrrh had an anticarcinogenic effect on tumors induced in mice.
Recent Chinese research found that sesquiterpenoids from myrrh inhibited human
prostate cancer cells and suggested they could be developed as novel therapeutic
agents for treating prostate cancer (Wang et al 2011). Bergamottin, a furanocoumarin found in bergamot (5%) and lemon (0.2%), was one of several coumarins found
to inhibit in vitro tumor promoters (Miyake et al 1999). Recent Korean research
has confirmed the antitumoral properties of bergamottin (Hwang et al 2010), and
bergamot essential oil was found to induce multiple death pathways in cancer cells
in an Italian study by Russo et al (2013). What is interesting about the Italian study
is that the individual chemical constituents (linalyl acetate, limonene, linalool, and
bergapten) did not produce cancer cell death—only when they were combined
together as they would be in the whole essential oil (Table 16-1).
Cancer and Conventional Side Effects
The side effects of some conventional treatments for cancer can be very hard to
endure. A few of my close friends have died from cancer recently and I have other
friends and relatives who are cancer survivors. In the 1980s, I had a small aromatherapy private practice in England. My patients came by doctor’s referral or word
of mouth. Almost half of them had cancer, and the role of aromatherapy in their
treatment was one of support. The cancer patients were mainly undergoing chemotherapy and radiation therapy following surgery and, without exception, they
found the going very tough. Many expressed their despair that conventional medicine did not adequately address the unpleasant side effects of the cancer treatment.
Twenty years later, aromatherapy has become the main complementary therapy
used in the UK to support oncology patients (Harris 2012).
Clinical aromatherapy is now frequently used as a supportive complementary
therapy in several large cancer hospitals in the UK, such as The Royal Marsden in
London, The Christie in Manchester and The Clatterbridge Cancer Center in Wirral and Liverpool. In the United States, several centers use clinical aromatherapy,
such as the Penny George Institute for Health & Healing (PGIHH), America’s largest
hospital-based integrative care program (Kinney 2012), and the Columbia University
CHAPTER 16 | Oncology
TABLE 16-1 Published Studies on Essential Oils with Antitumoral Properties
Essential Oil
Common Name
Al Kalaldeh
et al
Greek sage
Apoptosis of breast
Loizo et al
Salvia triloba
Salvia leriifolia
Apoptosis of
cancer cells
Greay et al
Di Sotto et al
Ngo et al
Soeur et al
Aniba rosaeodora
No known
common name
No known
common name
Tea tree
Sertel et al
Thymus vulgaris
et al
Kathirvel et al
Origanum onites
Turkish oregano
Ao & Shiodo
murine cancer cells
Suppression of
cancer cells
cancer cells
Human oral cavity
squamous cell
Apoptosis of 5RP7
HeLa and HEp-2
­cancer cells
Apoptosis of SBC-3,
A549, MEWO,
and G-361 human
cancer cell lines
Medical Center, New York (Kelly 2012). Several large U.S. hospitals such as the Texas
Health Harris Methodist Hospital, Fort Worth, Texas; the Aurora Medical System,
Wisconsin; and the Cooley-Dickinsen, Massachusetts also have robust and expanding
clinical aromatherapy programs for patients—please see the list in the resource section.
In Canada and Australia, aromatherapy is frequently offered to patients in
oncology departments. Other countries such as Japan, Korea, China, and India are
rapidly catching up and there is tremendous interest in how aromatherapy can be
used clinically to alleviate some of the distressing symptoms caused by conventional
medicine (Koyama 2012, Hongkeun 2012, Shioda 2012, Imanishi 2012). As one
patient said to me, “Conventional medicine saved my life, but clinical aromatherapy
saved my sanity and made the process much more bearable.”
SECTION III | Aromatherapy in Clinical Specialties
TABLE 16-2 Essential Oils and Spritzers for Radiation Burns
Common Name
Botanical Name
Blue chamomile
Blue tansy
Matricaria recutita
Helichrysum italicum
Lavandula angustifolia
Melaleuca viridiflora
Rosa damascena
Tanacetum annuum
Achillea millefolium
Postradiation Burns
Most radiologists request nothing to be put on the skin during radiation. This is
to ensure the marks for radiation will not be removed as it is extremely important that radiotherapy is accurate. Some patients choose to have tiny tattoos that
mark the radiation site. Many radiologists now understand that preparing the skin
before radiotherapy reduces the severity of burns and skin irritation. In the weeks
before radiation begins, the skin can be prepared with undiluted niaouli (Melaleuca viridiflora). This seems to toughen the skin and results in fewer and less severe
burns. Apply niaouli to the area three times a day for a week. Roulier (1990) and
Franchomme and Penoel (1990) both suggest using 50% niaouli immediately
before each radiation session and 50% niaouli in a St. John’s wort-infused oil, or
rosehip carrier oil, after each session. Sheppard-Hanger (2000) also used spritzers
of everlasting (Helichrysum italicum) and blue tansy (Tanacetum annuum) immediately following each radiation treatment. Blue tansy is dark blue in color and
high in chamazulene, hence it is an excellent antiinflammatory essential oil. Do
not mistakenly use Tanacetum vulgare, another species of Tanacetum. Tanacetum
vulgare is yellow to pale blue in color and contains 60% thujone, a ketone, which
is not recommended for use in oncology or aromatherapy in general. Waghmare
(2013) suggests that aloe vera is effective as a mild steroidal cream and has no side
effects. Aloe vera squeezed straight from the living plant can be very useful either
on its own, or with essential oils added to it, immediately after each radiotherapy
session. A good present to anyone about to undergo radiotherapy would be a nice
healthy Aloe plant.
My patients have used tansy (Tanacetum annuum) and everlasting (Helichrysum italicum) in spritzers and also spritzers of lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
plus rose (Rosa damascena) with good results. Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) and
blue chamomile (Matricaria recutita) are also good choices. Table 16-2 lists suggested essential oils that can be used in postradiation spritzers. To make a spritzer,
add 4 mL of essential oils to 4 oz of water and put in a spray bottle. Shake well
before using. Take care not to use anything on the skin that has been stored in an
CHAPTER 16 | Oncology
aluminum container (such as antiperspirants) or that contains aluminum because
aluminum can interfere with radiation treatment.
When radiation therapy is finished, apply a compress. Mix antiinflammatory
essential oils like German chamomile, frankincense, or rose into a base of either
aloe vera gel or tamanu (Calophyllum inophyllum). An infused oil of gotu kola
(Centella asiatica) or comfrey (Symphytum officinale) can also bring rapid relief and
help promote healing.
Maiche et al (1990) carried out a controlled, single-blind study on 50 women
aged from 30 to 79, who had been operated on for breast cancer and who had
received radiation therapy. Kamillosan ointment, a proprietary cream that contains
chamomile, is widely available in Europe. It was applied 30 minutes before radiation
and just before bed. Measurements were made by an oncologist using a four-point
scale (no change–moist desquamation). A comparison between the control group
and the Kamillosan group showed no statistical significant changes overall, but skin
deterioration appeared to happen later in the Kamillosan group, and there were
fewer patients who presented with Grade 2 (dark erythema) reactions. In a further
controlled study on leg ulcers, Kamillosan appeared to enhance the standard treatment of corticosteroids and antihistamines (Nasemann 1975). Kamillosan can also
be helpful with the canker sores that appear during radiation.
A small, controlled, pilot study carried out at the Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital found dilute essential oils topically applied had comparable effects to
triaminolone cream (Shields 2004). Fourteen patients comprised the convenience
sample. They were patch tested. Then 5% lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) and
German chamomile (Matricaria recutita) in 20% tamanu plus 80% sweet almond
oil was applied twice a day to the right side of the irradiated breast. Triamcinolone
cream was applied to the left side of the breast. A RTOG acute skin toxicity grading tool was used. Five patients withdrew from the study because they disliked the
smell. One withdrew after a rash appeared. Eight patients completed the study.
Of these, five patients had comparable results to triamcinolone and the essential
oil mixture seemed to delay the onset of skin radiation damage in the other three
patients. These modest results are encouraging. Better compliance (and therefore
better results) might occur by replacing blue chamomile (Matricaria recutita) with
blue tansy (Tanacetum annuum), Helichrysum (Helichrysum italicum), and frankincense (Boswellia carteri) because the mixture would smell better. The added
antiinflammatory effect of the additional essential oils would probably enhance
the results.
Chemo-Induced Nausea
Chemo-induced nausea is covered in Chapter 9: Nausea and Vomiting. However,
I have included a small table of published studies on chemo-induced nausea in this
chapter for quick review. Please see Table 16-3. The best methods of application
for chemo-induced nausea are individual aromasticks or aromapackets. Please see
Chapter 2: How Essential Oils Work. Drinking ginger tea may also help, as may
slowly chewing oranges.
SECTION III | Aromatherapy in Clinical Specialties
TABLE 16-3 Published Studies on Essential Oils for Chemo-Induced Nausea
Essential Oil
Stringer &
Najaran et al
Haniadka et al
Peppermint, spearmint
Essential oils taken
orally in capsules
BOX 16-1 The Oral Mucositis Assessment Scale (OMAS)
Ulceration in Oral Cavity
Erythema in Oral Cavity
Grade 0
Grade 1
Grade 2
Grade 3
Grade 0
Grade 1
Grade 2
No lesion
Lesion < 1 cm2
Lesion 1-3 cm2
Lesion > 3 cm2
Not severe
Radiation-Induced Mucositis
Almost 75% of cancer patients receive radiation (Radvansky et al 2013), and
xerostomia (dry mouth) and mucositis are common adverse effects of radiation
to the neck and head (Scarpace et al 2009). Xerostomia and mucositis, as well as
being uncomfortable, also expose the mouth and throat to infection. Canker sores
can occur. Topical application of lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) can be helpful in these instances (Baccaglini 2013). There are several scales used to measure
oral mucositis:
1)World Health Organization (WHO) Handbook for reporting results of cancer
treatment (1979)
2)National Cancer Institute—Common Terminology Criteria for Adverse Events
3)Radiation Therapy Oncology Group (RTOG) Criteria
4)The Oral Mucositis Assessment Scale (OMAS) (Box 16-1)
Daily chlorhexidine mouthwash is often recommended for preventing chemotherapy-induced or radiotherapy-induced oral mucositis (Potting et al 2006). In
a meta-analysis of three randomized controlled trials, patients complained about
the negative side effects of chlorhexidine. These included teeth discoloration and
alteration of taste in two of the five studies. Much worse, however, was that the
results of the meta-analysis did not support the use of chlorhexidine mouthwash to
prevent oral mucositis (Potting et al 2006).
Mouthwashes containing essential oils can help reduce the pain of mucositis,
improve oral hygiene, promote salivation, prevent further mucosal breakdown, and
prevent (or treat) oral infections (Harris 2012). For mouth care to be effective, it is
important for the mouthwash containing the essential oils to be kept in the mouth
CHAPTER 16 | Oncology
TABLE 16-4 Essential Oils for Mucositis
Mentha × piperita
Mentha × spicata
Commiphora molmol
Citrus limon
Thymus vulgaris CT thymol
for as long as possible before spitting it out (some essential oil mouthwashes can
be swallowed). Encourage the patient not to eat, drink, or clean their teeth for at
least 30 minutes after using the essential oil mouthwash. Dover Hospital, NJ, uses
mouthwashes containing Cymbopogon martinii (palma rosa). An added advantage
of using palma rosa is it reduces mouth odor and helps the mouth smell nice, as
well as addressing the pain of mucositis, and treating and/or reducing oral infections. Buckingham (2010) reports on a mixture used by a UK hospital that contains
myrrh (Commiphora molmol), spearmint (Mentha spicata), and sweet orange (Citrus sinensis) in a hydrolat (floral water) of lavender and chamomile. MaddocksJennings et al (2009) used manuka (Leptospermum scoparium) and kunuka (Kunzea
ericoides)—both essential oils from New Zealand—in their randomized, controlled
feasibility study. Nineteen adult patients took part in the study. The aromatherapy group used a gargle containing two drops of a 1:1 mix of the essential oils of
manuka (Leptospermum scoparium) and kanuka (Kunzea ericoides) in water. The
control group gargled with plain water. Both groups received conventional nursing
care. Participants in the essential oil gargle group had a delayed onset of mucositis and their pain and oral symptoms were less than participants in the placebo
(gargling with water) or the control (“usual care”) groups.
Suggested essential oils for mouthwashes can be found in Table 16-4.
Chemo-Induced Peripheral Neuropathy
Peripheral neuropathies induced by chemotherapy (CIPN) are an increasingly frequent problem (Grisold et al 2012, Mir et al 2012), and one of the main reasons why
patients stop treatment early. It is not absolutely clear what the cancer drugs actually do to cause CIPN, but it is thought the cytotoxic drugs increase oxidative stress
and this activates the ion channel TRPA1 expressed by nociceptors (Trevisan et al
2013). This means nerves can become sensitized because the concentration of salts
in the fluid surrounding them changes, or because the channels that use these salts
to trigger nerve impulses become dysfunctional and this causes the patient to feel
more pain (NCI 2010). Symptoms vary from an increased sensation to heat, cold,
and pressure to stabbing pains and difficulty with balance (Harris 2012).
Some CIPNs are partially reversible during posttreatment nerve recovery
(Englander 2013). Amifostine and antidepressants are often prescribed in an
attempt to improve the quality of life, but these have limited efficacy and can produce other side effects. A review of 24 studies by Schloss et al (2013) concludes that
SECTION III | Aromatherapy in Clinical Specialties
currently no supplement such as vitamin B6, vitamin E, or others, showed solid
beneficial evidence for the treatment of CIPN. It is certainly worth trying topically
applied peppermint (Mentha x piperta) and cornmint (Mentha arvensis) in a gel—
using a low percentage of 1 to 5%. Colvin et al (2008) and Storey et al (2010) found
menthol (the main component in these two mints) effective in reversing bortezomib-induced neuropathic pain. Harris (2012) suggests applying dilute essential oils
to the sacral area for lower limbs and the cervical area for upper limbs—as well as
applying it to the limbs themselves. Her suggestions for a 5% mixture can be found
in Table 16-5.
Lymphedema occurs frequently following mastectomy but is also fairly common
following lumpectomy if there has been removal of lymph glands. The risk of arm
edema increases when axillary dissection and axillary radiation therapy are used.
The incidence of arm lymphedema following breast surgery is 8% to 30% (Card
et al 2012) and appears to increase up to 2 years after diagnosis or surgery of breast
cancer (DiSipio et al 2013). Lymphatic cording, sometimes called axillary web syndrome (AWS), can also be a problem. Lymphatic cording means a rope-like structure that develops in the axilla area and can extend to the elbow (Tilley et al 2009).
When lymph pathways are reduced, either due to surgery or due to trauma,
it is more difficult to return excess interstitial fluid to the blood. Lymph accumulates in the subcutaneous tissue causing the affected limb to become swollen and
tender. Lymph contains large protein molecules, and buildup of protein in the tissue leads to chronic inflammation and, over a period of time, thickened leathery
looking skin. After the initial phase of soft skin and pitting, chronic lymphedema
is characteristically nonpitting. Because of chronic inflammation, local immunity
is compromised, with subsequent bouts of cellulitis and poor resistance to insect
bites or minor cuts.
The large lymphatic vessel walls are contractile (so progress is in one direction
only). This is why the Vodder method of manual lymphatic drainage (MLD) can be
so beneficial. The pressure of MLD is light and always in the direction of the lymph.
Although not trained in the method, I have had success using “tramlines”—one of
the MLD strokes—running my fingers gently, slowly, and repeatedly in the direction of the lymph. With a bit of practice it was possible to feel the lymph move. It
TABLE 16-5 Essential Oils for Chemo-Induced Peripheral Neuropathy
Common Name
Botanical Name
Sweet marjoram
Spike lavender
Thai ginger
Indian wintergreen
Mentha piperita
Origanum majorana
Lavandula latifolia
Zingiber cassumunar
Gaultheria fragrantissima
CHAPTER 16 | Oncology
helped that the very light pressure is similar to the pressure used in my own ‘M’
Essential oils can be added to MLD and aromatherapy can play an important
role when the skin loses its elasticity and infections become more frequent. Choose
a nice-smelling mixture of essential oils and avoid those with an astringent action
like Cupressus sempervirens (cypress) or those high in phenols that may be too agressive. I was unable to find any published studies on lymphedema and aromatherapy,
which is surprising and an area definitely worth exploring. An R.J. Buckle student,
Judy Ryan (2007), conducted a small case series using essential oils on three patients
receiving MLD. Outcome measures were infrared temperature, limb measurement,
muscle testing, and pain VAS (0 to 10). The study lasted 12 weeks. During the first 2
weeks baseline was established. The following 9 weeks comprised the aromatherapy
intervention and the last week was the control/washout. During weeks 3 and 4,
antiinflammatory essential oils were used. A different selection of essential oils was
chosen for each patient depending on his or her requirements. The antiinflammatory essential oils were the most effective and appeared to reduce tissue congestion.
This small case series helped set a new standard of care within the clinic where Ryan
works in the United States.
Aromatherapy as a General Supportive Role
Aromatherapy is one of the most popular complementary therapies offered to cancer patients in the UK. An NHS survey of 142 CAM cancer units in the UK found
counseling was the most widely provided (82%) with aromatherapy coming second, and was provided 59% of the time (Agan et al 2012). Velindre is one of the
10 largest regional clinical oncology units in the UK and the largest in Wales. The
center deals with 5000 new referrals a year and 50,000 new outpatient appointments
(Green 2012). Aromatherapy is offered as a complementary therapy and the service
is audited using the MYCAW (Measure Yourself Concerns and Wellbeing) tool.
Inhaled essential oils, using diffusers or aromasticks, are popular as well as aromatherapy massage. The center offers both inpatient and outpatient care.
The Christie HNS Foundation Trust in Manchester is the largest acute cancer
center in the UK. At this hospital, clinical aromatherapy is used to support the side
effects of treatment, but also to calm and support the patients. The hospital has
raised the profile of aromasticks by instigating their use in 2006, and since then, by
auditing and publishing several articles about their use (Stringer & Donald 2011,
Carter et al 2011). In this hospital, aromasticks are used for (in order of importance): anxiety, nausea, sleep disturbance, a distressing procedure, smoking cessation, low mood, pain, and odor issues. The Royal Marsden Hospital, London, also
offers aromatherapy to its cancer patients (Dyer et al 2008) through aromasticks
and through aromatherapy massage.
In other parts of the world, aromatherapy is beginning to become integrated
into cancer care for survivors, as well as in palliative or hospice support for cancer patients. In 2010, the first funded complementary therapy program in Canada
was instigated at Mackenzie Richmond Hill Hospital in the Greater Toronto area
SECTION III | Aromatherapy in Clinical Specialties
(Tavares 2012). This was no small feat, as Canada has a widely accepted fragrancefree culture and aromatherapy is less known about than in the UK, United States, or
Australia. Aromatherapy in Canada is predominantly massage based. In the United
States, aromatherapy is an integral part of patient care at the Penny George Institue
for Health and Healing (PGIHH) and this includes an aromatherapy department
(Kinney 2013). Aromatherapy is given through massage and by inhalation.
Globally, most studies of aromatherapy in oncology have involved massage
(Wilkinson et al 2008). Some examples are: in the UK (Wilkinson et al 2007),
Korea (Chang 2008), United States (Myers et al 2008, Russell et al 2008), and Japan
(Kohara et al 2004, Imanishi et al 2009). In Japan, a survey of 300 patients with
cancer found 44% were using complementary therapies and this included aromatherapy (Koyama 2012) (Table 16-6).
Most studies appear to target palliative, hospice, or end of life cancer care
(Nakano et al 2012). Few studies have used inhalation or spritzers but there are
some. For example, Graham et al (2003) explored the use of inhaled essential oils
of lavender, bergamot, and cedarwood during radiotherapy and Dyer et al (2008a)
explored the effect of neroli and peppermint hydrolat on hot flushes in breast
cancer patients.
Perhaps because many countries are fee paying, there is little information in the
literature about the supportive role of aromatherapy in cancer care outside the UK.
However, aromatherapy is part of a package of complementary therapies that have
significantly reduced the use (and therefore the cost) of antiemetic, anxiolytic, and
TABLE 16-6 Sample of Published Aromatherapy Studies in Cancer Patients
Essential Oil
et al
Pain, anxiety,
Dyer et al
Bergamot, lavender,
and frankincense
Lavender, sweet
orange, and
Neroli, peppermint
et al
Ndao et al
bergamot, and
Stringer &
Peppermint, lemon
et al
Several blends – not
Hot flushes in
breast cancer
Anxiety during
Nausea – stem
cell infusion
Nausea, sleep
disturbance, low
mood, anxiety
CHAPTER 16 | Oncology
hypnotic medication at the oncology inpatient department of Beth Israel Medical
Center, New York (Kligler et al 2011).
Oncology patients prefer a very light touch. Thus the ‘M’ Technique can be
really valuable, because it is so quick to learn (and to do) and can be shown to
family, friends, and volunteers. The ‘M’ Technique is used by many nurses in the
United States as part of holistic nursing care. There follows a case study from Valley Hospital, Ridgewood, NJ, where nurses use clinical aromatherapy and the ‘M’
Technique in the oncology unit, as well as in many other areas of the hospital.
Alice (not her real name) is a 17-year-old female, diagnosed with a metastatic
yolk sac tumor. Following aggressive surgical debulking and S/P chemotherapy,
she became severely anemic/neutropenic and her platelet count plummeted to 5
(normal is 150 to 400). She was admitted to the ICU with pleural effusion where
chest tubes were inserted. She was intubated and a nasogastric tube was passed for
nutritional maintenance. Alice’s kidney and liver function was affected and she
presented with fungicemia. Consultation with the holistic nursing service was a
request for comfort. The ‘M’ Technique was provided to the patient’s hands using a
dilute lavender cream mix. She was also given aromasticks (inhalers) for relaxation
(lavender/mandarin combo), nausea control (ginger/lavender/peppermint/spearmint combo), and to support her emotions and digestion (lemon). At the time of
writing, Alice was doing well enough to be discharged to a rehabilitation facility
for strengthening before she could be considered for another round of chemotherapy. Alice personally requested fresh inhalers before discharge and uses them on
a continuous basis. They give her a sense of well-being and control in a situation
that has been life threatening, and will be challenging for the foreseeable future
(Mazzer 2013).
An R.J. Buckle student, Judith Dibartolo (2011), carried out a small study on
10 patients in New York, using a case-study format. Patients were given an aromastick containing ylang ylang. The aromastick was held in front of the patient’s nose,
not inserted into the nostrils. Three interviews were conducted with the participants—before, during, and after the study. The first interview was face to face, the
second and third were by phone. Eighty-six percent of patients reported less anxiety
after using the inhaler compared to week 1, but this feeling dissipated during the
next 2 weeks (Table 16-7).
Essential Oils to Avoid in Oncology
A recent study found that plant-based phytoestrogens have both estrogenic and
antiestrogenic properties that may be important in breast carcinogenesis (Xie
et al 2013). This study involved lignans. While essential oils do not contain lignans, it might be prudent to avoid essential oils that are thought to have estrogen-like properties in tumors that are estrogen dependent. Estrogen-dependent
cancers are breast, uterine, and ovarian cancer. Essential oils thought to have
an estrogen-like effect include fennel and aniseed as they contain anethole
(Albert-Puleo 1980). Anethole is a phenol methyl ether. Sclareol (found in clary
sage) and viridifloral (found in niaouli) are other components of essential oils
SECTION III | Aromatherapy in Clinical Specialties
TABLE 16-7 R.J. Buckle Student Studies on Cancer Patients
Essential Oil
Thyroid cancer
Chemo nausea
Anxiety before
breast biopsy
Radiation burns
Peppermint, frankincense, rose
Chemo nausea
Chemo nausea
German chamomile,
Peppermint, ginger
Several mixtures
Ylang ylang
that have structures similar to estrogen (Franchomme & Penoel 1990). The link
to geranium and rose is really too tenuous, and both essential oils should be fine
to use in estrogen-dependent tumors. Two Chinese studies (Wang et al 2009,
Huang 2011) measured the levels of seven sex hormones in essential oils. Wang
measured estradiol-17β, estriol, estrone, testosterone, methyl-testosterone, progesterone, and diethylstilbestrol and Huang measured estriol, estradiol, estrone,
ethinyloestradiol, dienestrol, hexestrol, and diethylstilbestrol. Unfortunately,
because both papers are in Chinese, it is impossible to discover what essential oils
contained what sex hormone and in what quantities. Hopefully, these two papers
will be translated soon! For more research, please see Tisserand’s latest book on
Essential Oils Safety.
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Therefore, peppermint and eucalyptus should not be used topically near an intravenous catheter site if the chemotherapy agent used is 5FU.
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Palliative, Hospice, and
End-of-Life Care
“Death is not the worst evil, but rather when we wish to die and cannot.”
Sophocles (496–406 BC)
TABLE 17-1 | Published Articles on Aromatherapy in Palliative Care, 326
TABLE 17-2 | Published Studies on Fungating Wounds, 328
TABLE 17-3 | R.J. Buckle Student Studies on Hospice and End-of-Life Care, 332
lthough palliative care may ultimately lead to hospice care and hospice care
may lead to care of the dying, they can be viewed as separate specialties and
are defined differently in the Medical Dictionary (Brooker 2008). Palliative care is
defined as the “multidisciplinary specialty of symptom relief with the care and support of the patient, family and friends” (Brooker 2008, p 352). Patients in palliative
care may have several years to live. Hospice care is defined as “care for those with
chronic or terminal illness and their family—at home, in a day unit or hospice”
(Brooker 2008, p 226). Hospice care is centered around individualized symptom
relief—particularly pain, usually in the last 6 months of life. Patients in a hospice
may be receiving respite care as well as end-of-life care. End-of-life care is defined as
the “care given at the very end of life, during the last week, days, or hours” (Brooker
2008, p 158). End-of-life patients may or may not have received palliative care and
may or may not be in a hospice.
The terms ‘palliative’, ‘hospice’, and ‘end-of-life’ care are often used as if they are
synonyms. However, a search on the database PubMed in August, 2013 produced
different results, depending on which word was used. Palliative care plus aromatherapy produced 45 hits, hospice care plus aromatherapy produced 17 hits, and end-oflife care plus aromatherapy produced 7 hits. The Help the Hospices UK website gives
different definitions for hospice and palliative care (www.helpthehospices.org.uk).
Palliative care in the UK is provided by the National Health Service (NHS) with
CHAPTER 17 | Palliative, Hospice, and End-of-Life Care
referrals for admission to a hospice via a doctor. Hospice care in the UK is funded
by charitable organizations; hospices receive small financial support from the NHS.
Palliative care is the active, total care of the patient whose disease is not responsive
to curative treatment (Radbruch & Payne 2009). There have been several attempts
to measure palliative care globally (Clark & Centeno 2006, Martin-Marino et al
2008, Wright et al 2008). In 2011, 136 out of the world’s 234 countries (58%) had at
least one palliative care service—an increase of 21 countries (up by 9%) from 2006,
with the largest increase in Africa (Lynch et al 2013). Advanced integration of
palliative care has only been achieved in 20 countries (Lynch et al 2013), namely
Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Norway, Poland, Romania, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland,
Uganda, UK, and the United States.
One of the greatest emotional shocks a person can receive is the knowledge
that he or she has a terminal illness. This sets off an internal process of mourning,
with the associated feelings of denial/numbness, anger, bargaining, depression, and
finally acceptance (Axelrod 2006). Many patients remain stuck in the anger stage
with the question “why me?” or they displace their anger and sense of unfairness
onto others and make their lives miserable (Kubler-Ross 1978). Perhaps the answer
to this dilemma could be found in the following quotation:
The Pathless Path
There is no answer.
There never has been an answer.
There never will be an answer.
That’s the answer. (Gertrude Stein 1925)
Western society does little to honor the process of mourning for anything other
than death. There is no rite of passage for divorce, failure, or a terminal prognosis.
However, patients in palliative care are mourning the death of their future. They
know there will be no happy ending. The sudden knowledge of the close proximity
of death comes as a bitter blow to many patients. There is no way of knowing (outside a hospital) if someone has a limited time to live. They don’t wear an armband
to state it. So, unless he or she chooses to share this knowledge, we don’t know.
Many don’t share the information because they don’t want pity or forced joviality.
This can keep patients locked in a world of their own, unwilling to communicate at
a time when communication is important and time is limited.
Gentle touch and beautiful smells can cross these barriers. Touch communicates
a sense of acceptance to such patients, many of whom may have feelings of selfdisapproval (Pratt & Mason 1981, Olson & Keegan 2013). Touch and smell often
penetrate the despondency of a patient who is struggling to accept that life is no
longer going to be as he or she had hoped. Touch is an important commodity during palliative care because patients can often feel more “skin hunger” (Simon 1976,
Jackson & Latini 2013). Touch opens up dialogue, while smells nudge memories.
SECTION III | Aromatherapy in Clinical Specialties
Together they can help patients who may struggle with feelings of anger, denial,
guilt, and frustration by allowing them to verbalize those feelings and communicate
at a deeper level.
Palliative care should embrace the whole family, who may be trying to “remain
brave.” Smells are not easily hidden, and beautiful smells are an easy way to begin
dialogue with family members. It is not unusual for aromatherapy to act as the
catalyst, allowing patients and their relatives to begin talking to one another at
a useful level. This period before a patient enters the terminal stage is important
for a peaceful death. It is a time to clear old scores and resolve past disagreements.
It is a time of completion, so the process of dying, when it finally occurs, can be as
serene and dignified as possible.
Aromatherapy in Palliative Care
Many countries use aromatherapy in palliative care, for example, Italy (Latina et al
2012), Germany (Warnke et al 2004), the United States (Kozak et al 2008, Schwan &
Ash 2004), UK (Horrigan 2004, Kyle 2006; Harris 2013), Australia (Knevitt 2004),
Japan (Kawamura et al 2013), and Korea (Chang 2008). Most of the studies on aromatherapy in palliative care are centered on cancer care. There is a dearth of studies
on other chronic diseases in palliative care such as multiple sclerosis (MS), ischemic
heart disease, stroke, and so on. However, aromatherapy has ameliorated symptoms of MS (Esmonde & Long 2008), ischemic heart disease (Moeini et al 2010),
and stroke (Shin & Lee 2007). Definitive research on the use of aromatherapy for
these conditions in palliative care could prove interesting. Most of the current published studies in palliative care focus on depression or anxiety. A list of some of the
published studies can be found in Table 17-1.
TABLE 17-1 Published Articles on Aromatherapy in Palliative Care
Essential Oil
Louis &
Wilcock et al
Soden et al
Wilkinson et al
Serfaty et al
Santalum album
20 essential oils
(not listed)
20 essential oils
(not listed)
Number of
Common Name Participants
Sandalwood 1%
CHAPTER 17 | Palliative, Hospice, and End-of-Life Care
Fungating Wounds
Malignant fungating wounds (MFW) are the result of cutaneous infiltration by
cancerous cells (da Costa Santos et al 2010) and present a multidimensional challenge in palliative care (Merz et al 2011). MFW are complex wounds that become
malodorous as a result of infection (Lo et al 2012). They may also bleed, are often
painful, and cause physical and psychological distress because the smell of a fungating wound is usually offensive (Fleck 2006, Gibson & Green 2013). Conventional
treatment is with a metronidazole and Mesalt® dressing (da Costa Santos et al 2010)
or 6% miltefosine solution (Adderley & Smith 2007). Foam dressings that include
silver (Kalemikerakis et al 2012) or activated carbon dressing with curcumin ointment (da Costa Santos et al 2010) are also used. Some success has been found using
ghee and honey (Udwadia 2011). The most expensive treatment is metronidazole
cream (Mercier & Knevitt 2005).
An Australian team, Mercier and Knevitt (2005), found that essential oils used
in creams ameliorated the bad smell of the fungating wound and also helped the
wound. Between 2003 and 2005, they used aromatherapy successfully in 13 patients
with fungating wounds. This work resulted in a nursing protocol for using essential
oils in fungating wound care in the state of New South Wales, Australia. The article
presents three detailed case studies with some helpful hints. They suggest that if odor
is only present during dressing changes, then essential oils need just be diffused during the procedure. If the odor of the wound is detectable (but not too offensive apart
from dressing change), a few drops of the chosen oils can be applied to the outside
of the dressing. Only if the odor becomes too distressing are essential oils applied
directly to the fungating wound. When this does happen, the patient’s choice of
essential oil can be mixed with an equal amount of tea tree oil (Melaleuca alternifolia) in a water-based cream at 2.5% to 5% dilution and applied directly to the wound.
Slight stinging may occur initially. Enough cream is applied to prevent the dressing
from sticking to the wound, to avoid inadvertent disturbance in dressing changes.
Tavares (2011), a UK-trained nurse, outlines another protocol for using essential oils for fungating malodorous wounds in her self-published booklet “Integrating Clinical Aromatherapy into Specialist Palliative Care.” Her booklet is based on
9 years’ experience working in palliative care in the UK before she moved to
Canada. Tavares recommends using tea tree and lavender combined in equal
proportions in either aloe vera gel or infused Calendula officinalis.
In another Australian study, Warnke et al (2006) conducted a case series
(n = 30) using an essential oil mix on the fungating wounds of patients with inoperable squamous cell carcinomas (head and neck). The same essential oil mixture was
used for each person. The mix contained (per g) 70 mg eucalyptus, 50 mg tea tree,
45 mg lemongrass, 45 mg lemon, 7 mg clove leaf, and 3 mg thyme essential oils in
a 40% ethanol base. The ulcers were rinsed with 5 mL of the mixture twice a day.
All patients experienced complete removal of the malodor by the fourth day. Some
patients also had wound healing and a few achieved complete reepithelialization.
This report includes three detailed case studies with clear photographic evidence of
wound improvement.
SECTION III | Aromatherapy in Clinical Specialties
TABLE 17-2 Published Studies on Fungating Wounds
Number of
Essential Oil
Common Name
Warnke et al
Tea tree
Mercier & Knevitt
Melaleuca alternifolia,
Citrus paradisi
Eucalyptus globulus
Thymus vulgaris CT
Boswellia carterii
Melaleuca alternifolia +
patient’s chosen essential oil
Tea tree
Case studies
Case studies
My own choice of essential oils for fungating wounds would be tea tree, eucalyptus, geranium, and frankincense in aloe vera. A small selection of pertinent, published fungating wound studies can be found in Table 17-2.
Giving Comfort During Palliative Care
Aromatherapy can aid the management of symptom control, but perhaps aromatherapy’s greatest strength in palliative care lies in its ability to facilitate communication at an emotional and spiritual level, as well as giving feelings of comfort and
relaxation. For this reason, the choice of essential oils should rest with the patient.
Concentrate on offering the patient a selection that could be relaxing or relevant to
how they are feeling. If he or she is particularly withdrawn or depressed, an uplifting
essential oil known for its gentle antidepressant properties, such as bergamot (Citrus bergamia) or frankincense (Boswellia carterii), would be appropriate. Familiar
aromas that give pleasure can relax a patient sufficiently to allow him or her to open
up. Aromatherapy in combination with the ‘M’ Technique allows a patient to experience pleasure, relaxation, and acceptance simultaneously. The ‘M’ Technique is a
simple method of gentle, structured stroking. For more information, please see the
relevant chapter. Trust can occur at a deep level between caregiver and patient with
the use of aromatherapy. This level of intimacy allows caregivers to show their profound love of humanity in a deeply moving way and provide real “comfort care” to
their patients (Kolcaba 1995). A growing number of healthcare professionals desire
to give this level of care (Montgomery 1996).
Hospice care is intended for the whole person, aiming to meet all needs—physical, emotional, social, and spiritual—at home, in day care, and in the hospice itself
(Radbruch & Payne 2009). The hospice movement was founded in the UK by
Dame Cecily Saunders in 1967 with the opening of the first hospice, St. Christopher’s, in south London. The hospice movement in the UK has since then expanded
CHAPTER 17 | Palliative, Hospice, and End-of-Life Care
rapidly; today, there are over 100 hospices (NHS UK 2013). Two teams of specialist
nurses—the Macmillan nurses and the Marie Curie nurses—support the work of
the hospice movement. Macmillan nurses are trained in palliative care and pain
management in oncology (Leadbeater 2013) and mainly give advice and support.
Marie Curie nurses are trained in cancer care (particularly end-of-life care) and can
give hands-on help at home for people at the end stages of life. They will stay overnight if needed to give the family a break (www.mariecurie.org.uk/).
In Germany, the hospice movement had a rocky start after a documentary about
St. Christopher’s hospice in London was shown on television, sparking a heated
debate about assisted suicide versus palliative care and if the two could coexist
(Muller-Busch 2009). However, the debate has not deterred excellent palliative care.
Today, end-of-life care in Germany is managed mainly by doctors in general practice with help from specialists in palliative care with the result that over one third
of patients in palliative care die in hospices (Heese et al 2013). There are hospices
in many other European countries such as Italy (Partinico et al 2013), Austria, and
Poland (Centeno et al 2007). In Belgium, Luxembourg, and The Netherlands (where
euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide [PAS] are accepted) there are robust hospice movements (Thulesius et al 2013). In France, the hospice model is slightly different with mobile teams supporting the terminally ill at home (Centeno et al 2007).
In the United States, there are more than 4700 hospice programs. In 2007, these
hospice programs cared for nearly 1.4 million people (Hospice Foundation of America
2013). Care is provided through Medicare and other health insurance providers and
80% of hospice care is provided in the patient’s home or in a nursing home. The United
States allows PAS in three States (Oregon, Montana, and Washington). However, this
has not impacted the level or acceptance of hospice care (Thulesius et al 2013).
In countries such as Japan, Korea, and Taiwan, the hospice movement is only
just emerging (Glass et al 2011, Kao et al 2013). In Africa, there is a need to develop
both palliative and hospice care (Onyeka et al 2013). In Australia, there is a growing
hospice movement (Yoong et al 2013).
Aromatherapy in Hospice Care
Dame Cicely Sounders, the founder of the hospice movement wrote, “we do not
have to cure to heal.” In using aromatherapy in hospice care, there is no attempt
to cure, but there is a great attempt to ameliorate symptoms, provide support, and
enable the patient to have the best quality of life for the time they have left. Many
countries use aromatherapy in hospice care, however, an Italian study found that
only five hospices offered aromatherapy and this could be attributed to lack of
training, knowledge, and funding (Latina et al 2012). In the United States, 86%
of Washington State hospices offered aromatherapy (Kozak et al 2008). Most U.S.
hospices allow aromatherapy and some have their own aromatherapy programs.
The San Diego Hospice even has its own hospice blends—these include a mix for
comfort (lavender, rose, Roman chamomile), serenity (sandalwood, rose, bergamot), and grief (rose, frankincense, cypress, helichrysum) (Schwan & Ash 2004).
Almost every UK hospice uses aromatherapy.
SECTION III | Aromatherapy in Clinical Specialties
Mouth Care
Mouth problems such as dry mouth, cracked lips, painful mouth, ulcers, and swallowing difficulties are common in all three areas—palliative, hospice, and end-oflife care. However, dry mouth is particularly relevant in end-of-life care and can
result from many causes such as mouth breathing, the use of drugs such as opiates and sedatives, oxygen therapy, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, and dehydration
(Tavares 2011). An Australian study demonstrated that dry mouth and mouth
ulcers significantly impacted the physical, social, and psychological well-being
of terminally ill patients (Rohr et al 2010). Dry mouth was one of the eight most
­distressing symptoms in a Taiwanese study of palliative care (Tsai et al 2007).
A study to explore the use of essential oils to improve oral health in hospice
patients was carried out by Kang et al (2010). In this Korean study, 43 patients with
terminal cancer were randomly allocated to the aromatherapy group (n = 22) or
the control group (n = 21). The essential oil mixture included geranium, lavender,
peppermint, and tea tree. The control group received 0.9% saline. Mouth care was
given twice a day for 1 week to both groups. The outcome measures were: (a) reduction in discomfort; (b) improvement in the state of the mouth; and (c) reduction
of any presence of Candida albicans. The results demonstrated that the presence of
Candida albicans was significantly decreased, discomfort was reduced, and the state
of the patient’s mouth was improved in the aromatherapy group compared to the
control group. The reduction in Candida albicans is important because this fungal
infection is very common in advanced cancer, and although Bagg et al (2006) found
that tea tree was effective to reduce the infection, the addition of lavender, peppermint, and geranium would make the taste and smell more acceptable.
Palma rosa (Cymbopogon martinii) can also be very useful in mouth care: it is
high in alcohols but safe to use orally; the taste is acceptable, therefore compliance
among patients is high; it is easy to administer so compliance by nurses is high; it is
inexpensive and therefore attractive for hospital use; and, it makes the patient’s breath
smell pleasant. It is also antifungal, antibacterial, and antiviral so it can clear up any
nasty infections. Palma rosa mouth care is used with acceptance and great success in
the palliative care departments of some hospitals in the United States (Surrette 2006).
The physical process of dying is recognizable (Keegan & Drick 2011). Bodily functions cease, and the peripheral temperature drops as circulation fails. This means
the hands/arms and feet/legs become cold and the skin begins to look mottled and
discolored. Thirst is often the last craving, with food refused. Many dying patients
breathe through their mouths, which become dry and cracked. Often their eyes
remain open, even though the patient may be asleep or unconscious. However,
most patients can hear right up until the moment of death. This was the case with a
dear friend of mine who died recently at a famous London hospital. The consultant
said “the most important thing about end of life care is pain management.” He was
speaking in a loud voice, right across my dying friend, to her husband who was
CHAPTER 17 | Palliative, Hospice, and End-of-Life Care
sitting on the opposite side of the bed (actually doing the hand M Technique). “She
can hear you!” the husband said. And my friend, eyes half closed and glazed over,
mouth open, nodded twice. She died less than 4 hours later.
Peace and Serenity at the End of Life
One of the most important goals of end-of-life care is achieving a good death (Hirai
et al 2006). To many doctors, this means adequate pain management. However,
there is much more to a good death than lack of pain (Buckley 2008; Knapp-Hayes
2014). The challenge is to minimize end-of-life symptoms while improving the
quality during the final hours of life. Aromatherapy can be helpful in both reducing symptoms, such as terminal agitation and fear, and improving the quality of
life with beautiful smells and gentle touch. Each person deserves the dignity to die
surrounded by family or, if there are no relatives and friends, to die surrounded by
caring people (Keegan & Drick 2011).
This brings us to think of the word “care” and what it really means, as well as
if healthcare actually includes care. Perhaps, a better term to describe healthcare
might be disease management! End-of-life care is sympathetic and is hard to teach
to another person because caring involves feelings. A person feels sympathy or they
don’t. I think the majority of those working in palliative, hospice, and end-of-life
care do genuinely care. Hopefully, governments will learn the importance of quality
of care at the end of life and allow healthcare professionals the time, resources, and
support to be able to give that care. A feature in the Royal College of Nursing Bulletin
about nursing in Wales was entitled “Time to Care” (RCN 2013, p 11). In the UK,
the cuts to the NHS have resulted in there not being enough nurses or physicians
in many hospitals. Caring takes time and it is hard to quantify for budgets yet it is
quantifiable in family satisfaction and in cherishing the honor and care given at the
end of life. The idea of a Golden Room (Keegan & Drick 2011), where someone can
choose to go and experience the best death he or she can achieve, is a great concept
and worthy of integrating into healthcare systems globally. (I really hope this will be
available when my time comes.) If this were not possible, then following some of the
suggestions in Gentle Dying (Warner 2008) would help improve the quality of death.
Most of us would like to die at home, or at least, in the place of our choice. However, for many people, this may not be possible and the alternatives can be frightening. A comparison study of England, Canada, Germany, and the United States
found that many patients did not die in their preferred location (Klinger et al 2013).
In Canada more than 50% of end-of-life patients were being treated “aggressively”
rather than palliatively (Hu et al 2013), and although most Canadian people wanted
to die at home, few were actually allowed to do so (Topf et al 2013). Aromatherapy,
using familiar smells and a gentle touch like the ‘M’ Technique, can help with fear
and anxiety in the last few days/hours of life.
End-of-Life Care with the ‘M’ Technique and Aromatherapy
Many people have a fear of dying alone. When patients are at the point of death,
they may have been unconscious for some time, but it is still important to be really
SECTION III | Aromatherapy in Clinical Specialties
“present” for them. They will probably still be able to hear you, so talk gently to
them or play their favorite music. Tell them you are there for them, but give them
permission to go. Touch using the ‘M’ Technique is a wonderful way to say goodbye
and to soothe the dying person.
The ‘M’ Technique has been used successfully on both pain and agitation at the
end of life on two patients at St. Richard’s Hospice in Worcester, UK (Roberts &
Campbell 2011). The first patient had MS and the second patient had cerebral palsy
(CP). The MS patient scored her pain as 10 on the 0-10 pain scale despite having
patient-controlled analgesia and recent, additional, subcutaneous morphine. The
‘M’ Technique appeared to have a very rapid relaxation effect and the patient died
peacefully within 24 hours. The second patient was extremely agitated—kicking,
very restless, and not sleeping for days. After 10 minutes of the ‘M’ Technique, the
patient appeared relaxed and the jerking movements stopped. When the ‘M’ Technique was completed on both his hands and feet, the patient fell asleep and slept for
3 hours. It only takes a few moments to show the hand ‘M’ Technique to a relative.
This can empower the relative and soothe their loved one.
R.J. Buckle students have completed studies using the ‘M’ Technique plus essential oils on end-of-life patients (Table 17-3). The most frequently used essential oil
was frankincense, followed by lavender. However, the one essential oil I always take
with me when I visit terminally ill patients is rose. The aroma is instantly recognized, accepted, and universally liked. Rose has a deep calming effect that is readily
apparent in the change in breathing and body relaxation. Neroli hydrolat is also
effective when sprayed on pillows and sheets. These, plus the hand ‘M’ Technique
can soothe and calm at the end of life.
One of the first R.J. Buckle student studies was carried out by Katz (1999). This
was a study of 20 patients in the active dying process, who were showing terminal
agitation, at her hospice in Pennsylvania. Katz applied 1% Lavandula angustifolia
with the ‘M’ Technique to hands and feet. All the patients had reduction in pulse
TABLE 17-3 R.J. Buckle Student Studies on Hospice and End-of-Life Care
Number of
Essential Oil
Frankincense/clary sage
‘M’ Technique
‘M’ Technique
‘M’ Technique
‘M’ Technique
‘M’ Technique
‘M’ Technique
‘M’ Technique
*Lavender, frankincense, and sandalwood 1%.
CHAPTER 17 | Palliative, Hospice, and End-of-Life Care
and respiration, and all demonstrated reduction of agitation by unclenching their
hands. In 75% of cases, family members verbalized that they had observed a decrease
in agitation. Two comments from her study are haunting: from a patient—“There
is a sense of peace I haven’t felt since the diagnosis was made”; from a 5-year-old—
“My granny feels better, and I helped” (she had been shown how to do the hand
‘M’ Technique).
O’Keefe (2000) carried out a study on 10 patients using frankincense in a foot
and leg ‘M’ Technique and a drop of lavender on a pillow at her hospice in Arizona.
All patients were in the active stage of dying, and some of them died within hours.
After treatment, the restlessness of nine of the patients decreased. For most, their
respiration slowed and became deeper as they became quieter. Most of them slept
peacefully following the treatment. The response of the patients’ relatives was one
of deep appreciation for this level of caring.
Ocampo (2000) carried out a controlled study on six terminally ill patients
experiencing moderate to severe pain at her hospice in New York. Eight volunteers
were trained in the ‘M’ Technique and performed it on patients’ hands. All patients
receiving the ‘M’ Technique experienced considerable reduction in their pain perception, according to a visual analog. The treatment group slept for longer periods
than the control group.
Eaton (2008) conducted a small, controlled, pilot study in a hospice in Wisconsin (n = 9). Patients were given the ‘M’ Technique with frankincense or with
plain grapeseed oil. Outcome measurements were respiration, blood pressure (BP),
and psychological changes. Decreases in BP occurred in both groups. All patients
said they felt calmer. The control group did not have changes in respiration. The
aroma group appeared to have a greater psychological effect. The entire frankincense group had a positive response whereas 50% of the control group had a positive effect.
Donadson-Steverson (2008) conducted a pilot study (n = 30) in Addison, Texas,
on the effects of 5% frankincense (Boswellia carteri) and clary sage (Salvia sclarea)
while using the hand ‘M’ Technique during the dying process. The ‘M’ Technique
was completed every 2 to 4 hours by a family member who had been previously
shown the ‘M’ Technique by a nurse. Each time the technique and essential oil mixture were applied, the family member would write down the date, time, symptoms,
and responses to the therapy. Outcome measurements were changes in comfort levels as shown by changes in facial grimacing, grunting, and restlessness. Twenty-seven
of the 30 (90%) patients had some symptom relief. The other three patients died
before the ‘M’ Technique could be given. Sullivan (2008) conducted a separate study
(also in Texas) on the effects of 5% lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) and frankincense (Boswellia carteri) given in a hand and foot ‘M’ Technique for end-of-life agitation. Again, positive effects on the agitation of dying were observed.
I feel that the soul does not die but moves on, and just as a newborn child is
helped into this world, so should a soul be helped in its transition out of this world.
Whatever the healthcare provider believes, by caring for a dying patient in this way,
the transition from life to death is supported in the most holistic way possible.
SECTION III | Aromatherapy in Clinical Specialties
Using familiar smells and gentle touch are two of the tools we can use. When I have
used the ‘M’ Technique and essential oils on a dying patient, as I did very recently, I
have felt an enormous sense of gratitude to be able to do something that gives peace
and comfort to the patient, the relatives, and to myself. This sense of gratitude is
expressed in the following poem.
Thank you, my friend
For sharing your dying.
I can be with you
To catch a glimpse of the life you are leaving
And the life to which you return.
In the process, I can accompany your tumult,
Your fear, resistance,
And hope.
Thank you my friend
For sharing your soul. (Dorothea Hover-Kramer, 1993; reproduced with the kind
permission of the author)
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“Childhood is measured out by sounds and smells and sights, before the dark
hour of reason grows.”
John Betjeman
TABLE 18-1
TABLE 18-2
TABLE 18-3
TABLE 18-4
Doses for Children and Babies, 340
Essential Oils to Relax a Hyperactive Child in Hospital, 341
Pediatric Studies Carried out by RJ Buckle Students, 343
Published Research on Essential Oils and Head Lice, 345
here is a Chinese saying that “children get sick easily, and sickness can quickly
become serious,” and another says “children easily ill, easily cured.” There is no
doubt that children in the hospital are very vulnerable. They deteriorate or improve
rapidly and they need a tremendous amount of love and support, particularly if
their families cannot visit. Although children are more adaptable than adults and
often face intimidating procedures with interest and no apparent fear, some may
display behavioral problems when they become institutionalized.
Some of the most distressing aspects of hospitalization are invasive medical
procedures, such as venipuncture and the placing of nasogastric tubes. Aromatherapy can help soothe the child before these interventions. A few moments
of hand or foot ‘M’ Technique can help relax a child while you explain what is
going to ­happen, how long it will last, and how it will help him/her. Anxiety about
being hurt, or having lasting pain, has been identified as one of a child’s greatest
fears (Foster & Park 2012, Logan et al 2012). A systematic review did not find
that conventional preoperative analgesia was useful in children (Ashley et al 2012).
Although these findings were about dental surgery, they could be extrapolated
to cover other kinds of operations. Therefore, it is pertinent to explore if aromatherapy could help reduce pediatric pain. van Dijk (2001) discusses the problems of pain assessment in neonates and infants in her excellent PhD thesis Pain
Unheard? She has generously allowed this to be available to everyone and it can be
CHAPTER 18 | Pediatrics
downloaded from http://repub.eur.nl/res/pub/22838/010124_Dijk,%20Monique
%20van.pdf. Alleviating pediatric pain has been central to Dr. van Dijk’s ongoing
research at both the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital in Cape Town,
South Africa, and Erasmus Medical Centre-Sophia Children’s Hospital, Rotterdam, The Netherlands. To this end, her team uses topical application of essential
oils and the ‘M’ Technique with good results (O’Flaherty et al 2012).
Sweet orange oil was found to be helpful in the induction of 120 unpremedicated children aged 5 to 14 years in a study by Mehta et al (1998). Children in the
essential oil group were significantly more likely to say they would be will